His photos have circulated throughout the world press. Meanwhile, in his homeland, he is still known as a juvenile delinquent. The 12-year-old Roma Saveliev is referred to as the Child of Maidan and the Ukrainian Gavroche. During the clashes in the center of Kyiv, he was breaking fiercely into the battle.
His current lifestyle is out in the open air, next to an old laptop. Over and over, he watches the videos of the brightest moments of his life: “When I am watching them, I am wondering when will this ever happen again.”
Two and a half months ago, these frames shook the world. A 12-year-old child in homemade armor, fighting not for life, but till death in the midst of gunfire and fumes from the tear gas.
Photos of the young Roma Saveliev have ended up on the covers of newspapers and journals. And then, two months later, nobody has heard from or thought of him.
The town of Yagotyn is Roma’s home. The Savelievs’ house is known to everyone there. Straight away, the neighbors say that the kids in the Gypsy family grew like weeds by the road. Right now, some of them are in jail, some in an orphanage; their mother is wanted for neglecting parental duties. No one from Roma’s family cared about him.
The only one who is proud of the boy is his older brother. However, half a year has passed since he last saw Roma.
Photographs are all over his tent. He has gotten used to the flashes of the cameras, as he was a favorite subject of photographers during the clashes. Grenades were exploding, Kyiv was covered in smoke, and he, side-by-side with grown men, was storming the Berkut.
He could dwell on those events for hours. However, he isn’t willing to talk about his life in Yagotyn, before Maidan. When the winds of revolution began to blow, he left home on one of the commuter trains. His personal Maidan began in Kyiv.
The victory of Maidan became his victory over himself. He no longer steals, unlike back then, at the train station. He is learning fighting techniques, cleaning, preparing food. Grown men see him as their sworn brother.
Roma can barely read and write, but he doesn’t plan to return to Yagotyn and go to school. He is still officially listed as a student at School Number One in Yagotyn. There, others see him as a wretched child: “There are a lot of children who are born in families like these, they have to survive somehow, and in these situations they tend to behave like adults.”
In fact, his voice is mature and smoky. He walks in an adult way. Even his camouflage clothing is for adults; Roman only shortened his trousers. He has never had proper toys. Never even had a childhood. Maidan was the first time he played the Great War. Now he dreams unchildlish dreams of death.
“The most frightening thing was when the guys were falling. When you are standing next to him, and bam— he falls.”
He is placing sanctuary lamps for his friends in that game. For the war turned out to be real.
Translated by Dasha Darchuk, edited by Robin Rohrback