Maria Nazarova is an activist, co-organizer of the "March for Kyiv," and co-founder of the "ReaniMetro" initiative, which has installed defibrillators at every Kyiv metro station. We interviewed Maria Nazarova in early February at the Bookstore-coffee shop Sens near the place where Maria grew up and where her family still lives. None of us knew that Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine would begin in two weeks.
(interview recorded on February 7)
Kyiv of childhood
I grew up in Pechersk. It is a retirement district with few young people, and there is the Kyiv Palace of Children and Youth, but everyone as a child usually spent time at home and didn't communicate much. I still think that this is the best district of Kyiv because it is tranquil, and at the same time, it's in the center and is so cool.
As a child, my mother lived in Vynohradny Lane, near the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and I went to the same school as her. My dad is from Tbilisi, and when I was little, we lived there for a while. I remember our apartment there - it was completely different from the one we had in Kyiv. There was an Italian courtyard, a patio with a huge apricot, and wooden galleries between the apartments we used to go down the stairs. When my parents divorced, my mother and I moved to our grandparents' ten-story building on Aistova Street (now it's Ipsilantiivsky Lane), where my mother still lives. My grandfather built this house. He was a civil engineer who built the massive building of the Constitutional Court and many other buildings in Kyiv. I studied at the Klovsky Lyceum on Shovkovychna Street, I always went there on foot, and each time I tried to choose different routes: through the yards, paths, through the stadium of the Arsenal factory, I am sure that it would be reconstructed soon…
Now I live in Osokorky, and this is a "people's district" this area is not about Kyiv at all, only a monument to illegal and illogical constructions. But I deliberately chose a house right in front of Osokorky Ecopark, and I'm fighting for it now. I grew up near Glory Park, where everything is super green, where you can see mature trees.
So I was looking for something green, and it wasn't easy. You can find a fabulous apartment in the center, but there will be no big trees or a park and a place where you can breathe, and be alone with yourself, so I chose to live near the eco-park Osokorky.
The Kyiv of my childhood is pedestrian. Still, I'm not too fond of long trips.
Now I live in Osokorky, and I suffer because the trip anywhere takes at least an hour. Kyiv's childhood is also green. I really like the fresh spring wet scent of the Kyiv parks, the smell of the musty ground, and lilac. I love the botanical garden at the University station.
I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn't attend classes much in the 11th grade, so I thought I wouldn't pass the external exams in chemistry and biology. I told my mom that I wanted a gap year. I read somewhere that there is such an option. She is a professor and doctor of sciences and teaches at the Faculty of Philosophy. She said that philosophy is a universal education - we teach it in the second shift so that you can learn your biology-chemistry in the first shift. And I replied - okay. I entered the philosophical department. I liked it, and it was really interesting. And then the Maidan began.
I was in my first year when we went for the student protests against Tabachnyk. When there was the first assault on the Maidan, from December 10 to 11, I felt I had to be there.
I took a white T-shirt and drew a red cross, pretending I was a doctor. I knew a lot, and I could give first aid. That's how I joined the Maidan medical service. I didn't lie, I said I was 17 years old and a student of philosophy.
Something was constantly exploding, someone was sick. I ran and saw a man with a broken head, and I started to wrap it… Then I became the organizer of medical centers. On the night of January 20, when the events on Hrushevsky Street took place, we opened a medical center at the Institute of Literature, just on the floor: we taped the place where it would be clean, where there would be surgery because there were many shrapnel wounds, we chose a place for a pharmacy and so on. You can come there, and there are still traces of this tape on the floor.
We also had the first victims of the Maidan in the medical center. I was very young, and it seems that's the reason I don't have very traumatic memories. I remember February 19 and 21, and I don't remember the 20th, the day of the shooting of the Heavenly Hundred. It's a kind of memory mechanism because I remember everything else very well. There are some visual flashes, like in the movies. I was not upstairs, where the shootings took place, I was not in the Ukraina Hotel, where everyone was taken, but there is a vague memory that somewhere down on Institutskaya, I am kneeling on the pavement, and there is blood flowing… And these were the places I went from the school down the square, the locations of my first dates.
Some time ago, people started spreading the same idea at various parties in Kyiv - that we should march for Kyiv.
And everyone spoke but immediately stopped because there were no specific ideas, and no one had the desire to lead the whole movement alone. And in the end, we gathered with several organizers. We were sitting here and there! - the camera rises, we get up from squats, move the hair back and say - yes, let's make the March for Kyiv! We immediately agreed that there would be no individual leaders, political parties, and names. But I was happy to see politicians marching because it meant that they supported the March's demands and might take them somewhere with their political power.
I think, for many people, the Flowers of Ukraine was the last straw.
I had enough before all of this started, but Flowers of Ukraine was a mega-mega-illuminated mess, and this is one of the few success stories that we managed to win back in the courts. The developer has to pay a huge fine now. And that's how we can set a precedent for everyone to feel that this is impossible.
The March for Kyiv was multi-vector; we wrote our demands in the Green Paper. Apparently, we succeeded because everyone had a purpose come for. You may not care about Osokorky, Vyrlytsia, but you support the idea of free Podil, the Flowers of Ukraine. It was scary that people would not come, that there would be more posters than people who would carry those posters.
And then, when I saw a huge column under the Verkhovna Rada, it was scary that there were too many of them. We were not sure if we could manage it all. But everything went super great.
I was glad that different people were uniting around the ideas of the March. There were people who, in ordinary life, do not intersect at all. There were right, left, far-right, and far-left. It seems to me that this was the first urban call to go to the masses. Urbanism is a more left-wing story, not popular in Ukraine at all, and even not so advanced in the world's more developed countries. It is remarkable that in Ukraine, which does not profess any urbanism principles at the state level, a public urban movement is emerging.
ReaniMetro / ReaniMisto
The idea of "ReaniMetro" started as follows: 15 deaths in the subway, plus two petitions on defibrillators and the position of the Kyiv Metro - "we will not do it." Instead, it was then that the subway bought screens for about 140 million, showing the time before the train arrived and mostly advertising. "ReaniMetro" was started by several co-organizers, it's a community (I don't want it to be a one-person project), and its whole story is a struggle. Although we won on the public budget (defibrillators in the subway were purchased at the expense of the Kyiv City Center for Public Health), the subway deliberately failed to buy them. The metro team failed to learn how to provide home care. There were only paramilitary guards who knew the basics, but they're only two of them at each station. These are 130 people, and not all of them have passed the training. It was a compromise by the director of the metro, although there were funds from the public budget to train all employees.
But we decided not to fight just for the purpose of the fight. We achieved our goal - now there are 52 defibrillators on the platforms of the Kyiv metro - that's our achievement.
Ukrainian Railways reached us first. I thought that only a few hipsters wanted to do it, so I prepared all the arguments for the meeting with top managers and arrived at them, but they were all ready. And I, as a Jehovah's Witness, who was first let into the apartment, and who doesn't know what to do next because he never reached this level. It was funny.
We want to set the defibrillators first of all in trains. Of course, placing them at large stations is necessary because it is an image story: people will walk past them, see them, be interested, and motivate them to learn what a defibrillator is, take courses, and so on. And from a practical point of view, the most important thing is that the defibrillators were in the trains. Sometimes, there is a railway crossing between stations - it could be an hour and a half, and you can not pass them faster, you can not drop a person anywhere. Twice last year, two of my friends conducted resuscitation right on the train. Every minute after cardiac arrest, the chances of survival fall by 10% if you don't provide help on time. The time it takes to get an ambulance with a defibrillator is a direct correlation to whether a person will survive or not, so it makes sense to put them in train and teach the conductors to use them. Guides, by the way, are one of the few categories that are obliged to assist.
In general, "ReaniMetro" is gradually scaling up in "ReaniMisto." This year we will submit projects to the Kyiv City Council on defibrillators in parks and markets. Another idea is to receive the "optimist of the year" award and put a defibrillator in the crematorium. It sounds like black humor, but it makes practical sense because people get sick there, and the ambulance goes there for a long time. I really want us to expand to other cities and work with Obukhiv, Chernihiv, and Slavutych. I want more big cities, regional centers, and an extensive network of "ReaniMisto" across the country.
We build the concept of "ReaniMisto" on two figures: 10% of Ukraine's population can provide home care and 3 minutes walk to the defibrillator.
We have a free franchise and share knowledge, regulations, texts, and advocacy ideas. I believe this will be a good story and will last a long time, maybe even a project of a lifetime. I want to do revolutionary things in a good way, and ReaniMetro is an audacious project because it demands something new.
What is activism for me? It is grassroots democracy - one of the few things that really works in our country. You can't achieve something in the usual way, so you activate Facebook and Twitter, word of mouth, and there are changes.
After all, there is a constant fear that this opportunity will disappear tomorrow if you can't fit in for a place now. One should not think that this is only the work of activists. Anyone can join any community, and organizations need hands-on heads. If you don't have money to help, you can repost, edit texts, and take photos. You can always find something to be helpful. There is a difficult way - to create a neighborhood community. Such communities, as well as the Association of co-owners of an apartment building - it's a nightmare. But they are perspectives because, in a big city, you need to connect on some basis, and physical proximity in an area is a huge plus for Kyiv.
I want to change my life from a state of eternal struggle to a win-win situation. Someone has to be in charge and monitor daily. I am in charge of ReaniMetro, someone has to be in charge of Osokorky eco-park, and someone has to be in charge of Pechersk shopping center.
I sincerely believe that someday it is possible to cultivate a taste in society so that people do not just demand that the "city develop," but raise a question - how to do this? - whether through rational things, emotions, or the courts.
I have seen beauty since childhood; I could see the Lavra from my window, and I went to school through the beautiful Lypky. I used to live like that, so I can't do without greenery and beautiful buildings.
Maybe if people haven't seen this, they don't have this value or feel sorry that it may be destroyed. I think most Pechersk residents should protest against the constructions, even if they do not apply to Pechersk, simply because we have at least something to preserve here, and we can spread this message.
Actually, the most beautiful place for me in Kyiv is Lypky, our triangle. This place makes me happy, and everything is preserved here, as in my childhood. I like that here, "the city does not develop." I am pleased with the common cause, the feeling of unity and sublimity, like at the March for Kyiv.
I like that some places remain as they were: Lypa, Gruscha, I know them personally, and no one touches them. If someone tried to destroy them, I would feel like losing a friend.
I now have significant demands for workshops and am happy to conduct them. Russian tanks are at the border, and people are finally learning to provide medical care.
I am a military doctor, I saw the war in cities like Avdiivka, where life is normal now, but there are already trenches on the outskirts of the town. Either people accept it and live, have their local stores, kindergartens, and concerts, but also trenches on the outskirts and understand that there can be shelling at any moment, or they leave because they can't live like that.
We have a well-functioning army, so most do not feel the danger and forget about the war. I would very much like people to remember the danger, but not at the cost of the war coming to Kyiv (I can't imagine tanks coming to Kyiv. And I can't be paranoid that everyone should carry an anxious backpack). I want this knowledge to encourage people to some action other than hysteria - to take courses in home medical care, for example.
For the past three months, Maria Nazarova has been a combat medic, tactical medicine instructor, assistant to the "Come back Alive" Foundation, and co-author of tactical medicine training programs for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
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