KIEV, Ukraine — Borys Vitaliy was happily married with a successful recycling business when protesters began gathering in the Ukrainian capital’s Independence Square, also known as Maidan, in November.
His consciousness raised, Vitaliy spent two days glued to the news, then left his hometown of Vinnytsia to join radical protesters bound for Kiev four hours away.
Since achieving their aim of forcing out President Viktor Yanukovych in a violent standoff, many of the activists have resumed normal lives, or headed off to fight the pro-Russia insurgency in the country’s east.
But Vitaliy remains in the square. His goal of fundamental political reform mostly unrealized — and his business, he says, taken from him by pro-Yanukovych leaders during the months of protest — he wiles away his days in a massive tent camp on one of Eastern Europe’s busiest thoroughfares.
“They call me Borys the Philosopher,” said Vitaliy, 39, standing shirtless in the noonday summer heat last week, wearing camouflage pants and the “Cossack haircut” — a flop of hair atop a shaved head. “And my philosophy is that, yes, there’s a war going on, but I need to be here to make sure the government continues to change. The revolution isn’t over.”
The war in Ukraine’s east has created streams of refugees seeking safety outside the combat zone. But Vitaliy represents a different type of dispossessed group. Known as the Maidanivtsi, it consists of hundreds, even thousands, of people who came to the capital during the Maidan protests and never left. They live as urban exiles under dark-green tents that spill across the square and into surrounding streets.
To their critics, they are an urban blight, an irritating reminder of a difficult time and even a national embarrassment. The real heroes, skeptics say, are away fighting insurgents, not sitting around a square.
But many of the Maidanivtsi say that isn’t an option. Documents and money were lost during the months of protest. Several tents bear the sign “Crimea,” indicating their occupants, if they returned home, would now find themselves on land that Russia annexed from Ukraine. Others, like Vitaliy, say their wives left them during their months away.
And some say they prefer the square. “We have food here, a good life here,” said Jaroslav Zolovkin, 28, a lifeguard from a town about an hour outside Kiev. “This is an ideal society.”
When parliamentarians recently left work after a short day without taking a critical vote, the Maidanivtsi herded them back to their offices.