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Brendan Hoffman is a 34-year-old U.S. photographer represented by Prime Collective. Based in Moscow since 2013, he traveled to Kiev in early December to document the protests brewing in reaction to Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign a trade pact with the European Union. The photographer returned to the city late last week, discovering a new intensity in the battles unfolding in the streets around him.
Hoffman spoke to Al Jazeera America by email on Monday afternoon. The conversation below has been condensed.
When did you first arrive in Kiev?
I spent most of the first two weeks of December in Kiev covering the earlier phase of this movement. I booked a hotel right next to Independence Square, and could literally watch the whole thing [unfold] from my room. I arrived at night; it was amazing, as my taxi pulled up to the hotel. I dropped my bags, put on a few extra layers and headed right out to work. I returned late on the night of January 23, a few days after things got significantly more violent and confrontational.
What struck you initially?
The organic, bottom-up organization of the Maidan is probably the first thing that caught my attention. Everyone finds a job that needs to be done, and they do it, whether it's making sandwiches, clearing snow or picking up trash. It's sort of mind-blowing that this city-within-a-city functions at all, but it's been over two months now and it seems only to get stronger.
What changes did you notice between the protests in early December and when you returned mid-January?
It's hard to say the crowd is different now versus back in December, but the atmosphere has certainly changed. There's a sense that outright confrontation with police on the part of protesters is reluctant — something they have to do, and not something they want to do. Still, the tension is elevated on all sides in light of the kidnappings of some prominent protesters, several deaths and a new wave of building takeovers by protesters. In December, we didn't see burning tires blocking the streets or Molotov cocktails. The police beat some people with truncheons, but now they're shooting rubber bullets and, apparently, live ammunition. Protesters have responded accordingly and are preparing for the violent showdown they ultimately expect the government to initiate.
You documented the funeral of the 25-year-old protester killed in the fighting.
Mikhail Zhiznevsky was shot during a larger confrontation between anti-government protesters and police. The funeral was incredibly emotional. His body was carried through the streets and when the procession reached the Maidan there were women lining the route and crying — far more than could have ever known him personally. This was something that deeply affected everyone. The church where the memorial service was held was overflowing, to the point the crowd spilled out of the church, out of the walls of the monastery, out of the square in front of the monastery and into traffic. He's a martyr and a hero to the people on the Maidan.
We've heard about the generous spirit of those behind the barricades. Were you welcomed?
Very much so. We were constantly offered food and hot tea, conversation and insight. The Euromaidan movement has been described as a middle class revolution. Many of the people manning the barricades are well educated, and a lot of them speak English, which is helpful since I speak next to no Ukrainian or Russian. People also realize their movement enjoys a lot of goodwill at the moment globally, and that continued media coverage in the West generally helps them.
What can't viewers know from your photographs?
The sacrifices people are making to be on the Maidan or at the barricades for days, weeks and months on end.
What do most protesters feel is "the next step?" What's the resolution here?
The situation in Kiev has taken so many twists and turns that it's really hard to predict what will happen next. The biggest shift that has probably been underplayed in the media is the broadening of the movement to other cities across Ukraine, including the eastern part of the country, which is generally much more pro-Russian. A dozen or so cities have essentially been taken over by Euromaidan activists. Security forces are stretched thin. People suspect Russia will send reinforcements, if they haven't already done so.
If I had to guess where it's all heading, I'd say President Yanukovych will be forced to call early elections, though probably not until he's good and ready for them. There are constitutional and other issues with that path as well, but we're in uncharted territory here.
In recents days, news photographs from Kiev have been likened to movie scenes for their raw, ethereal quality. What should viewers know about what's happening in Kiev?
It might be surprising to know that within Kiev, the chaos is very localized. Outside a relatively small section of the city center, life goes on and there are no burning tires or tent cities.