Diary of a protester: Wikimedian perishes in Ukrainian unrest
Ihor Kostenko on his 22nd birthday, 31 December 2013.
Ukraine, which has been an independent country in Eastern Europe since the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, has been gripped by widespread protests over the past three months. Due to a decision by former president Viktor Yanukovych—at Russia's urging—to abandon integration with the European Union, the country was (and in many ways still is) split between the Europe-favoring Ukrainian-speaking western half and the Russian-speaking east and south.
In recent weeks the violence was growing worse. The government sent snipers into the streets to fire at demonstrators, while the opposition blocked roads and took members of the police hostage. By mid-February the country was edging closer to a full-blown civil war: thousands of protesters were advancing on the parliamentary building, both sides shooting each other, and a presidential decree passed that authorized the use of live ammunition on protesters. While Yanukovych was impeached on 22 February, the tension has continued to swell as a Russian intervention looks increasingly possible.
Hundreds have died during the unrest, leaving thousands of family members and friends to bury their loved ones. This week our Wikimedian colleagues in Ukraine are facing that challenge after the death of one of their own: Ihor Kostenko, who edited with the username Ig2000, died on 20 February. He is survived by both parents and a sister. Ihor was 22.
Ihor Kostenko was born on the last day of 1991, just a few short months after Ukraine's parliament approved a declaration of independence and mere weeks following a 92.3% vote to confirm that decision. He was born in the town where his grandparents still reside: the rural village of Zubrets, located in the Buchach region of Ternopil and home to 1800 people.
After high school, Ihor was admitted to Lviv University, the oldest and one of the most prestigious universities in Ukraine. He majored in organizational management in the university's geography department and was evidently an outstanding student; the dean of geography posthumously named him as one of his best student geographers. Ihor was also a journalist with a sports news outlet Sports Analysis (Спортаналітик), where he had written more than 6000 pieces.
seen at an unknown date.
Ihor was a notable editor on the Ukrainian Wikipedia, writing articles on several wide-ranging topics. Of note was his article on the Fidonisy-class destroyer Nezamozhnik, which he shepherded through a "добра стаття" (good article) review. According to Ihor's article, Nezamozhnik was a Russian warship that was left unfinished after the First World War. While the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic claimed ownership of the vessel in 1917, they lost the Ukrainian–Soviet War and the ship was taken by the victors. After being completed in the 1920s, Nezamozhnik remained in service into the Second World War. Sturmvogel 66, who writes warship articles for the English Wikipedia, told the Signpost that with Ukraine facing down a massive German invasion and frequent aerial assaults, the destroyer "certainly played an important role" along the Southwestern Front's coastline, which encompassed most of modern-day Ukraine. "Nezamozhnik had a very active time in the Black Sea from 1941 to 1943—bombarding German positions on the coast, running supplies into Odessa and Sevastopol, escorting ships during the evacuation of Odessa, and ferrying troops to an amphibious landing near Novorossiysk". Ihor's article states that by the end of the war, the little ship had completed 120 combat missions, sailed 45,856 nautical miles, and shot down three planes.
Including his first edit in 2011, Ihor edited the Ukrainian Wikipedia more than 1600 times and created 280 articles. His interests on the site extended from soccer—he was a fan of FC Karpaty Lviv—to Formula One racing, economics, geography, and the history of the Ukrainian military. On the Ukrainian Wikinews, Ihor created six new articles on a variety of topics, including NATO's plans to intervene in Syria, the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, and Earth Hour.
Ihor bolstered his on-wiki work with real-life promotion of the site. He founded and administrated the Ukwiki Facebook group, which has nearly 500 members, and advanced the idea of a "Wiki Flashmob", where Ukrainians from all walks of life would be invited to write and create new articles for the Ukrainian Wikipedia. Unfortunately, Ihor planned this for 20 January 2014, so the event had to be called off amid increasingly violent protests. As related by Wikimedia Ukraine, "Ihor believed that the flashmob would help fill Wikipedia with thousands of new articles in the course of a day and proposed a strategy to realize his dream".
||Some would say it's selfish, but understanding the facts, watching the bloody statistics, and hearing about the terrible events in the country is one thing. To realize that your friend fell there is another.
|— Galya Stakhiv-Berezyuk
On 18 February, Ihor joined with other students in traveling to the capital to participate in the protests. Holding a shield, Ihor placed himself on the front line. Two days later, Ihor was marching near the October Palace when he was shot twice by an unknown sniper, once in the chest and once in the head. He was laid to rest on 23 February as part of a massive funeral with hundreds of cars and streets lined with people holding candles.
This terrible news was first related to the Wikimedia community in a blog post, later translated by Maryana Pinchuk. The Ukrainian Wikipedia community added a black ribbon to their logo in memory of Ihor, and tributes from around the world poured into a dedicated Wikipedia page. Many never knew Ihor, but editing Wikipedia transcends language and national barriers; as Cimbail stated, "And there are those who spread the truth, the knowledge, in whatever language. There are those who care for a better future, who stand up for their freedom and for the freedom of others. Igor took part in spreading the knowledge, as an author of Wikipedia".
After the death of Aaron Swartz in January 2013, I wrote a special report for the Signpost that began with a few simple words: "Comforting those grieving after the loss of a loved one is an impossible task. How, then, can an entire community be comforted?"
I'm still looking for the answer.
- Mykola Kozlenko contributed research for this story.