Ukraine’s ‘Pianist-Extremist’ plays for patriotism

An unidentified protester known as the "Pianist-Extremist" plays the piano in a video posted to YouTube on Jan. 29. Posted to YouTube by Ukraine Revolution

Turkey’s Gezi Park protests had the “Standing Man.” Tiananmen Square had “Tank Man.” In Ukraine, where tens of thousands of protesters have rallied against the government for more than two months, it’s the Piano Man.

He’s actually being referred to as the “Pianist-Extremist” — a nod to the Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko saying protesters would be treated as extremists if they defiantly remain on the streets of the capital.

His identity remains unknown, but he has quickly become an iconic figure of the popular uprising after video emerged of him tickling the ivories in the heart of Kyiv.

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Since its appearance in Kyiv’s central square in the early days of the protests, the piano has been a non-violent means to challenge the throngs of riot police on hand at the demonstration site.

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Available for anyone to play at any hour, the piano bears the blue and yellow of the Ukraine flag and stars of the European Union.

On Nov. 21, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych announced he would seek closer ties with Russia and move away from an agreement with the European Union.

But last week a performance by a young man donning a ski mask caught the attention of those following the protests around the world.

“It is the spirit of the revolution,” the Pianist-Extremist, reportedly in his 20s, told Reuters this past weekend. “It is the spirit of the revolution.”

He said he’s among the thousands protesting for the sake of their country, “not for money or violence.”

“I want to show the people of Europe what is happening in Ukraine,” the pianist told Reuters. “The authorities here are criminals, and we will see them punished.”

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The protests have been marred by violence between demonstrators and police, leading to six deaths so far, and most recently allegations of a protest leader being kidnapped and tortured.

The Ukrainian government has faced international condemnation for its crackdowns on the protest camp.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird called the alleged kidnapping of activist Dmytro Bulatov “barbaric” and “an attempt to deter peaceful protest through fear.”

The masked Pianist-Extemist has been seen performing away from the square, which demonstrators have dubbed EuroMaidan (Euro Square). A video posted on Jan. 29 shows him performing inside an occupied government building.

But at each appearance he remains behind his mask.

“My music shows that the people here are normal, educated people,” he told Reuters. “We want a better – European – future for Ukraine.”

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