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VR - Euromaidan Massacre

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  • VR - Euromaidan Massacre

    Virtual reality used to tell story of massacre of Maidan activists
    KYIV POST Daria Shulzhenko Nov. 9 at 9:51 am

    Few people in Kyiv could ever forget the terrible events of Feb. 20, 2014.

    And now people from around the globe, using leading-edge virtual reality technology, can go back in time and learn about the most terrifying day of the EuroMaidan Revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014.

    Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the popular uprising, a group of Ukrainian photojournalists decided to create a guided tour in virtual reality along Instytutska Street, a central street in the capital, to document the events that occurred there.

    On the morning of Feb. 20, 2014, the street turned into a war zone, running with the blood of the protesters shot by snipers.

    Early that day, the EuroMaidan camp on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, was under siege by riot police and on the verge of being overrun. Suddenly, the police withdrew from the edge of the burning barricades protecting the remains of the half-destroyed camp, and the protesters began to reoccupy the rest of the square, edging along Khreshchatyk Street and up Instytutska Street the road leading from the square to the government quarter of the Ukrainian capital.

    But as the protesters, wearing army surplus helmets and carrying wooden shields and batons for protection, started to advance up the hill, the crack of gunshots rang out, and they began to fall, bleeding, onto the cobbled road. As they took shelter behind trees by the side of the road, unseen snipers further up the hill began picking them off, one by one. Dozens were killed, dying either where they lay or in a makeshift hospital set up nearby.

    Altogether, at least 125 people were killed during the Feb. 18-20, 2014 clashes between protesters and security forces in Kyiv, including 19 police officers. Overall, more than 600 people were injured.

    While photographs and video of the police snipers recorded the events, no one has ever been held to account for the massacre.

    Aftermath VR: Euromaidan, an immersive virtual reality documentary, employs a three-dimensional model of Instytutska Street to immerse the viewer in a reconstruction of the massacre. When complete, the virtual reality documentary will be accessible over the Internet by anyone who has a virtual reality headset, using the gaming platform Steam.

    Viewers follow the steps of a protester along the street in virtual reality, and thousands of photos and video-interviews with eyewitnesses and doctors tell the story of the shootings.

    Alexey Furman, 27, the projects producer, said the reason he and his fellow photographers decided to create Aftermath VR: Euromaidan is that the events of Feb. 20, 2014 were such an unprecedented tragedy in the history of Ukraine that its never enough just to talk about it.

    For me it was one of the most traumatic days I have ever experienced, and this day still constantly returns to me, Furman said. There will never be enough projects about these events in Kyiv.

    Sergii Polezhaka, 27, the director of Aftermath VR: Euromaidan said the aim of the project was to create an experience that allowed each viewer to approach the subject in their own way, without having their opinions influenced by the documentary makers.

    We wanted to give the viewer a kind of freedom, and tell this painful story in a calm way, with no tears, Polezhaka says.

    Aftermath VR: Euromaidan was first presented in Kyiv at Planeta Kino cinema on Sept. 12, and is now available to view for free in the cinemas VR room. The projects founder said it had always been the groups intention that their documentary should be free of charge to view.

    This project should be free of charge it could be no other way, Furman said.
    A woman uses a virtual reality headset during the presentation of the immersive virtual reality documentary Aftermath VR: EuroMaidan at Planeta Kino cinema in Kyiv, on Sept. 12, 2018. (Volodymyr Shuvayev)

    The beginning
    Although Furman and Polezhaka started working on the project in October 2017, when they received a $20,000 grant from Google News Lab, the idea of recreating the events of EuroMaidans bloodiest morning emerged much earlier.

    Both photographers had covered the EuroMaidan Revolution in 2014, and wanted to show the events using new techniques and technologies.

    We were deliberating the idea of how to reflect the events with new methods and new tools, Polezhaka said.

    Virtual reality here is an instrument to understand the story in a better way, to emphasize the heroes, and to be isolated from the outside world, he said.

    To recreate Kyivs city center in virtual reality, as well as to make the image of the street look realistic, the project team of 14 photographers, designers, developers and 3D artists had to take more than 100,000 pictures of Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square and Instytutska Street.

    Furman says they had to photograph the city center early in the morning, when there were almost no people, no parked cars, and no sunshine.

    Over 8,000 photographs were used just to reconstruct the paving stones, Furman says.

    Nearly 40 archive photos from various Ukrainian and European media were used to depict the story of that morning.

    Aftermath VR: Euromaidan also uses 360-degree videos, also called immersive videos, which allow the viewer to see in every direction recorded.

    The immersive videos consist of interviews with protesters, doctors, volunteers and lawmakers, who recall the events that occurred at the particular place the viewer is standing in the virtual space.

    The videos pop up, together with archival photos, as the viewer walks along Instytutska Street in virtual reality.

    It might remind people of a computer game, but its not a game, its a serious documentary project, Furman said.

    Aftermath VR: Euromaidan is still not finished, as the current project includes only events on Instytutska Street on Feb. 20, 2014 occurring between 8:45 a. m. and 9:21 a. m. The full version will include events up to 11:21 a. m.

    In order to continue developing the project the producers started a month-long campaign on the U.S.-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter on Sept. 12, with the aim of raising $10,000.

    The Aftermath VR: Euromaidan crowdfunding drive eventually raised $11,945 from 194 backers all over the world.

    This will be enough money to finish the project, Furman said.

    Furman and Polezhaka will present the final version of Aftermath VR: Euromaidan on Feb. 20, 2019 the fifth anniversary of the EuroMaidan Revolution mass killings, when dozens of protesters, now known as the Heavenly Hundred, were killed by government security forces controlled by former President Viktor Yanukovych just before he abandoned office and fled the country.

    To relive the events of the EuroMaidan Revolution, viewers have to put on a virtual reality headset, which takes them to a virtual recreation of the beginning of Instytutska Street in Kyiv, on Feb.20, 2014.

    Any person that puts on virtual reality headset can get to Kyiv, Furman said.

    During the Aftermath VR: Euromaidan experience, the viewer walks along the recreated Instytutska Street, empty of protesters and government police forces.

    Their presence is felt only through audio recordings of the protest, as well as the voice of the guide that leads the viewer and explains the events.

    The viewer follows a path from the beginning of Instytutska Street, up to the right side of Zhovtnevyi Palace, to the place where barricades were erected by the protesters to defend the EuroMaidan protest camp on the square.

    Its like a guided tour, a personal excursion into the past, Polezhaka said.

    According toFurman, a number of myths have grown up about the morning of Feb. 20, 2014, some because of a lack of knowledge of the actual events, and some created as propaganda to spread false information about Ukraine.

    Furman said that Aftermath VR: Euromaidan is an unbiased way to tell the story.

    We do not recreate the events we only tell people about them, he said.

    Were multimedia storytellers, and we dont tell this story superficially, but in a deep and strong way the only way this story can be told, Furman says.

    When complete, Aftermath VR: Euromaidan will be available in two languages, English and Ukrainian. The current, shorter version of the documentary will be presented at the Mystetskiy Arsenal art center in Kyiv on Nov. 21.

    æ, !

    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp