The piano extremist: maestro of Euromaidan

piano extremist

The self-styled “piano extremist” plays on the roof of a burned “Berkut” bus near the barricade across Hrushevskoho str. Kiev (WikiCommons)

He calls himself the “Piano Extremist”—his real name is unknown. He disguises himself with ski masks and combat gear. But though he is dressed up for a fight, this young man has for months now been performing lyrical recitals on old uprights for Kiev’s battle-weary Maidanites. Impromptu musical performances have become popular during the Ukrainian protests, but this mystery pianist has become something of a musician laureate for Euromaidan. He has played in the battle zone of Independence Square, on trailers coursing the ragged barricades around the city, and on the roof of a burned out bus of the “Berkut” – Ukraine’s feared paramilitary militia.

The only thing he’ll say about himself is that he’s in his 20s and studied at a music college in western Ukraine. “My music shows that the people here are normal, educated people,” he told Reuters. His moniker refers to the use of the term “extremist” by Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko to describe anti-government protestors. There are photos of him with sheet music folded into his flak jacket. He favours the music of Italian composer, Ludovico Einaudi, best known for his score for the movie Dr. Zhivago. He wears a silver ring on his wedding finger.

The Youtube link reads: Video was made under walls of KMDA 24.01.2014 on Euromaidan. Outside is 15 degrees below zero. Sorry for low quality…

KMDA is Kiev’s City Hall, which became a rebel HQ in December until the occupiers vacated this and other government buildings in a conciliatory move on February 16th. The amateur footage is deeply evocative of what freedom means, emphasized by being so poorly lit; something powerful enough to move the hearts of millions, yet always dancing on the threshold of vulnerability. As he plays, people slowly gather around his piano as if around a hearth, listening in respectful silence in the cold uncertain night.

In this recital a beer in a plastic up sits atop the piano while he gently feels out the keys through a ski mask, gloves and fatigues. He nods to a young girl standing next to him to signal when to turn the page.

This footage (below) was taken at a dimly lit Ukrainian House on January 26th. Ukrainian House is Kiev’s most prestigious Convention Centre, right on European Square, 250 metres from Independence Square. A few hours before, anti-government protestors had fire-bombed and taken over the building that police had been using as a stronghold. After two days, the Ukrainian parliament offered concessions and repealed anti-protest laws, only to resort to a brutal crackdown on the demonstrators two weeks later.

The “piano extremist” has exchanged his ski mask for a more protective motorcycle helmet. As he plays Einaudi’s “Divenire” the camera pans around to show a woman perched at his side, the Ukrainian national flag, a few people quietly scattered among the theatre style seats. Normally this place is host to prestigious trade fairs, award-winning exhibitions and fancy banquets. Earlier that day it had been a war zone. But on this Sunday evening, just one among Kiev’s troubled calendar, it’s a few pairs of ears, a flashlight and this guy –reminding us all of the things worth fighting for.

About subincontinentia

writer and eternal optimist
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