Ukraine, the battle of Kiev

Sergey Panashchuk, in Odessa
23 Janvier 2014

Almost ten years after the Orange Revolution, which took place in Maydan in 2004, Ukrainians gathered again in the main square of Kiev to protest against the government’s policy.

They are demanding the resignation of President Victor Yanukovich, of the Parliament and of Vitaly Zacharchenko, Minister of Interior Affairs.

This new Maydan took place in November of last year, a few days before the European Union’s summit in Vilnius (Lithuania) where the Association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union was supposed to be signed. One week before the summit it was clear that Victor Yanukovich was not going to sign any document with the EU, which made a lot of Ukrainians very angry, and they started to demand a quick U-turn to Europe integration policy.

On November 30th, night police special forces violently thwarted a demonstration, after some protesters started to throw rocks at policemen. The people who started the clash with the police are alleged provocateurs, but it remains unclear. Violent suppressions of rally made people even angrier and on the next day, up to 200 000 people were gathering on the site.

The daily nightmare

A new wave of protests and clashes with the police was sparked five days ago because of a package of laws that were passed by the Parliament on January 16th. The opposition described those laws as antidemocratic. For example, according to the new laws, a journalist can be sentenced to 2 years in prison if he is found guilty for libel or slander. As the Ukrainian forensic system and Criminal justice are totally under the authorities’ control, there is no doubt that these laws will be used to literally shut up mouths of independent and non-government journalists and media.

"I was right there, to see the situation with my own eyes"

Igor Degtyarenko is a 30 year-old copywriter who lives in Kiev. He totally supports protesters and joins them after his work. “Every day I am spending some time at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square in Ukrainian) among other protesters. I am not fighting with the police but I fully support those who are. This government is only up for corruption, punishments and crimes. We should fight this monster with any possible means in the name of life and freedom. This regime is a cancer. We should cure it or cut it out. We can stop it only if we all take a stand. For example I participate to the “Don't Buy from Oligarchs” campaign, which consists in boycotting the goods linked to pro-government tycoons.

Now I have to spend more time in stores to make sure that I pick products which have nothing to do with the business of government supporting tycoons. When there was this terrible clash, I was right there in the hot spot, to see the situation with my own eyes. And I was stunned - how diverse protestors were- elderly people, women, respectable high and middle class people, the romantic youth, poets and musicians - they were all there. I think they are the best Ukrainians you can find”
, Degtyarenko said.

Now there is bloodshed and violence in Kiev because of clashes between special police forces (Berkut) and antigovernment protesters. Officially, four people died. They were killed while Berkut tried to stifle a rebellion. Three of the victims were gunned down by Berkut. It is not clear yet if the police used firearm or rubber bullets.

"Assume or leave"

Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov urges opposition leaders either to take responsibility for the actions of radical protesters (who are breaking the law and causing massive disorder according to the official position of the Ukrainian government) or to remove them from Maidan.

The UDAR opposition party leader Vitally Klitchko claims that the authorities are recruiting and bringing some provocateurs to Kiev. Most of them are young athletic men in their twenties. Their aim is to give Berkut a reason for violent suppression of protesters. Those provocateurs, according to Klitchko, are burning down cars parked in the city center, breaking shop windows and causing massive disorder. The authorities’ aim is to build up chaos in Kiev and to destabilize the situation to give themselves a reason to establish a state of emergency.

Three parties of the opposition, Svoboda, UDAR and Batkiwschina, made a collective statement and condemned firing at unarmed citizens. Responsibility for this act of terror is in the hands of Interior Affairs Minister Vitaly Zacharchenko. Those who are involved in mass disorder cannot be referred as peace protesters and demonstrators. They are criminals who have to be accountable for their actions. “As Prime Minister, I officially say that organizers and some participants of massive disorders are the ones who are responsible for the death of people, which unfortunately already took place”, Nikolay Azarov said.

On the Ukrainian Internet and social networks, there is a slight atmosphere of hysteria. Some people are suggesting to bring firearms to Maydan square to fire back at the police. Others are trying to prevent this move saying that if they take action, the police will undoubtedly use firearms and that will lead to multiple victims among the protesters. Maydan could literally be covered with blood and human bodies, one of the bloggers said. People are sharing videos and photos, and greeting each other with the words “Slava Ukrayini!” (Glory to Ukraine!).

Despite a freezing temperature (about minus 10 degrees), there were many protesters at Maydan square on Wednesday, January 22nd. And it seemed they would not go anywhere before their demand is heard by the government.