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A Twitter Death in Kiev

The tale of a post-modern martyr


As protestors fought riot police in Kiev yesterday, as the city center turned into a charred crater, volunteer medics skittered through the melee, attending to the hundreds wounded in the fight, pulling them into hotel lobbies and churches for treatement. One of them was 21-year-old Olesya Zhukovskaya. Someone snapped a photo of her posing in a helmet and a white T-shirt with a red cross pulled over her jacket, and a thick scarf around her neck. Later, someone snapped another one.

A sniper had shot her in the neck, piercing her scarf.

Then Olesya managed to tweet this. 

 "I'm dying."

The tweet shot through the Russian and Ukrainian blogospheres. It was a stunning moment, so hyper-meta-modern in its tragedy: It was all there in two pictures and a tweet for the world to reconstruct. Here was a sweet-faced young girl, a volunteer medic, red flowers as her Twitter backdrop, shot down by the evil Yanukovich's goons. Shot in the neck by a sniper, though she was clearly marked as a medic, strong enough to walk at first, then her fingers slipping around her phone's keyboard as the loss of blood made her woozier, dreamier...

The hosannas went up immediately. "Eternal memory!" people tweeted. "Glory to the heroes!" Olesya had become the martyr of Maidan.

Except that she was still alive. First in the operating room, then in critical condition, but alive. "Guys, I repeat myself: Olesya, the volunteer medic, is still alive has been checked with multiple sources," someone tweeted as the day rolled into evening. "Don't bury the girl, please!"

And her story is a little more complex than that of an angelic field nurse. Her page on VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, was full of links from "Right Sector," the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian group that's been the organized, violent force on the frontlines of the fighting. "I support Right Sector," she wrote in one post. "Do you?" In an open letter published today in an Ukrainian paper, but written before Olesya was shot, we find out that she is from the Ternopil region, in Western Ukraine, the part of the country that was in open revolt this week: Ukrainian-speaking Western Ukraine has long chafed under what it sees as Russian domination, linguistic and cultural. So while Olesya was in mostly Russian-speaking Kiev, she continued to write only in Ukrainian.

She was a dedicated volunteer for the Western cause, according to the open letter; she had been at the Maidan since day one. "What hasn't she seen there," the author wrote. "On Grushevky [a street with some of the heaviest fighting] her clothes caught on fire. A grenade fell near here." She eventually went home to comfort her worried mother, "but when she saw what was happening on the Maidan, despite her mother's tears and her father's worry, she took a night bus to the Maidan." 

Today, she was transfered from the ICU. Which we found out from the Facebook page of a Ukrainian parliamentarian. And then Olesya herself checked in.

("Thank you to everyone who supported and prayed for me! / I'm in the hospital. condition is still stable! Sorry to not answer the calls, very painful to talk.")

It's a strange Twitter resurrection, the two tweets still coexisting next to each other—I'm dying, I'm alive—and a martyr who lives to see the eulogies.