They were a ragtag army, fighting with baseball bats, Molotov cocktails, and plywood shields. But for Ukrainians, the protesters who clashed with riot police in kyiv’s main square a decade ago were the first soldiers in a war that continues today.

The protesters were part of the 2014 Maidan uprising, when Ukrainians took to the streets to protest President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s decision to give up closer ties with Europe and instead align Ukraine more closely with Moscow. In the final violent days of the uprising, police killed more than 100 protesters.

Their portraits now adorn a wall of honor at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in kyiv. They are displayed first, in front of portraits of soldiers killed in the eight-year simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine that served as a prelude to Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. And a museum dedicated to the street uprising He identifies those who died in the square as the first soldiers killed in the war with Russia.

This connection that Ukrainians make between the 2014 rebellion and the invasion two years ago reflects the long-term view of the war that many citizens have: they have been fighting Russia for 10 years, not two.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred in two phases, Ukrainians point out. The first was a decade ago, when Russian soldiers crossed the border shortly after Yanukovych was driven into exile, sparking war in the east. It was a military intervention not recognized by Moscow, shrouded in a fog of tricks and denials so improbable that few were fooled. But it still served to mitigate both the Ukrainian and international response.

The war pivoted two years ago toward a revealed effort by Russia to militarily seize territory and redraw European borders. This week, as the world marks the second anniversary of the Russian invasion, Ukrainians are also remembering the anger and determination that fueled the 2014 uprising.

“We have always been fighting against Russia,” said Captain Oleh Voitsekhovsky, who joined the army immediately after protesting on Maidan Square, fought in the war in the east and still fights today. His vision of Ukrainian history, he said, is one of a continuous struggle against Moscow. “Sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it’s hot.”

In its final days, the 2014 uprising nearly collapsed as protesters occupied just a few hundred square meters of soot-stained cobblestones and resorted to burning piles of tires to keep a giant bonfire burning that slowed down riot police.

Police snipers fired into the crowd, leaving bodies strewn on the sidewalk in central kyiv. The protest ended when the heads of the security services and protest leaders reached an agreement and the police withdrew and left the capital. This betrayal left Yanukovych unprotected and he fled to eastern Ukraine and then to Russia on February 24, 2014.

In a video address to the nation Tuesday marking the 10th anniversary of the sniper shootings, President Volodymyr Zelensky drew a line between the Maidan uprising and today’s trench warfare. Ukrainians will fight, he said, “in the squares, on the barricades and today on the front.”

After ousting Yanukovych, many protesters believed they had secured Ukraine’s freedom. In fact, the war had just begun.

Russia’s response to the Maidan turned into a simple but effective stunt: It deployed soldiers in uniforms without insignia to the Crimean peninsula and identified them as angry locals or members of motorcycle gangs. The ruse was transparent, but it managed to slow the Western response amid discussions about the origins of the apparent mystery soldiers.

Ukraine, still reeling under a parliamentary-appointed interim president, initially sought to avoid war.

Captain Yuriy Fedash of the Ukrainian navy was trying to fend off Russian efforts to board and seize his ship in March 2014 when he received an order from Kiev emblematic of Ukraine’s first, cautious response: “’Don’t give up, but don’t disparate ”Captain Fedash said he was told.

Seeing no way to resist without a fight, Captain Fedash disobeyed, he said in an interview: He ordered the sailors to fire warning shots from a heavy machine gun, sending out streams of sea water. They were among the first shots fired by the Ukrainian military in the war, but did not prevent the eventual seizure of the ship.

When Russian tanks crossed the border two years ago, approximately 400,000 Ukrainians had already fought the Russians in eastern Ukraine. By sustaining years of low-intensity warfare in the east, Russia had, paradoxically, prepared the Ukrainian military to repel a nationwide attack. Many veterans, battle-hardened after years in the trenches, rejoined the military.

“This was decisive,” Captain Voitsekhovsky said, referring to the way veterans of the war in the east took up arms against the full-scale Russian invasion. “First, we were motivated. This was a big and unpleasant surprise for the Russians. And we had combat experience. Nothing had to be explained. “We took weapons and we didn’t need help.”

The Maidan uprising also had echoes in Russia’s war plans.

In the invasion, Russia sought to quickly capture the capital with columns of tanks, paratroopers and commandos, with the aim of establishing a puppet government. One plan identified by Ukrainian officials would have reinstated Yanukovych.

In the weeks before the invasion, lawyers who later fled to Russia filed unnoticed lawsuits in a Kiev court challenging a 2014 parliamentary vote that stripped Yanukovych of his presidential powers.

The legal filings would have laid the groundwork for his return. Agents from Ukraine’s internal intelligence agency, the SBU, confiscated the court’s computer servers, to prevent corrupt or traitorous judges from publishing a ruling legitimizing Yanukovych’s return.

Over the years, Russia’s denials of any direct military role in Ukraine in 2014 angered Ukrainians and have amplified their vision of a long war against Russia.

France and Germany had, in settlement talks, conceded a role for Russian proxy forces in the negotiations known as the Minsk II process. This was, in essence, a partial acceptance of Russia’s denial of having invaded two eastern provinces in 2014; That acceptance delayed for years a full fight against the implications of Russia’s turn toward military expansionism.

“I wanted someone to pay attention to this anarchy,” Capt. Fedash, the navy captain, said of Russia’s unacknowledged intervention. “We let time pass. “They weren’t punished, so they continued.”

Ukraine is now on the defensive along the entire 600-mile front, fighting with dwindling ammunition and facing deep uncertainty about the future of military and financial aid from its most important ally, the United States. Ukrainians have fought against difficult odds before.

Sviatoslav Syry, who was beaten by riot police officers as a student protester in the square, was elected to a seat in Parliament and is now fighting in an artillery unit of the Ukrainian army.

Maidan protesters, he told Ukrainian media, were dismayed when riot police repeatedly stormed the tented camp in the square in nighttime raids. “In the morning, you think maybe it’s all over,” he said. “But inside there is already this anger and the desire to return.”

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

By Sam