After weeks, even months of protest, it is hard to keep the overview of what has happened in Ukraine up to date. The MH team has summarized the most important events so far.
It’s not hard to notice how the news and photos from Ukraine get gloomier each day: at least 4 people have been killed in clashes with the police, many others have been tortured, kidnapped or beaten. What started last November as a peaceful pro-EU demonstration in Ukraine’s capital has turned in the past two weeks into a tense nationwide conflict between the protesters and the state. A small area in the center of Kyiv has become a real battlefield. President Victor Yanukovych and the government are not only failing to control the situation in the country but are also slow and reluctant in responding to the demands of demonstrators, even after the protest turned deadly. As a result, riots spread further outside Kyiv with thousands of people besieging government buildings, demanding the resignation of the president and amnesty for those protesters who remain imprisoned.
The rebellion erupted in late Autumn when the president backed out of signing an Association Agreement with EU in favor of a trade deal with Russia on $15bn bailout. For the country, where more than half of the population supports EU integration, that was a clear and irrevocable shift of a governmental foreign policy vector. The next day the Independence square in Kiev became a nerve center of what has been called the biggest mass protest since the Orange Revolution in 2004. People from Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine flooded the center of the capital, and made it a base for the revolution with tent camps and field kitchens all around Maidan (the Independent Square). The protesters decided to avoid the use of any party symbols, however they were supported by the leaders of three main opposition parties who started representing them: Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the biggest opposition party “Fatherland” which was led by Yulia Tymoshenko, jailed former prime-minister; the former boxing champion turned politician Vitali Klitschko (“Udar” party); and nationalist leader Oleg Tyahnybok (“Svoboda” party).
It was announced many times by the opposition that the demonstration must remain peaceful, despite of numerous attempts to provoke the force scenario by young athletic men who, as people on EuroMaidan claim, are sponsored by the government. Even after an outrageous beating of protesters, most of whom were students, by Ukraine’s elite “Berkut” riot police, the only thing that changed on EuroMaidan was its blockade by demonstrators with street barricades. For almost two months people remained camped in Kyiv and the government remained silent.
A point of no return came on January, 18 when Ukrainian officials introduced a new anti-protest law, aimed at curbing anti-government mass demonstrations. The reaction of protesters was immediate. Yet this time mass dissatisfaction resulted in violence, when a group of people – reportedly young radical activists – pelted riot police with petrol bombs and stones. At least 4 people reported to be killed in fiery clashes, dozens of protesters and journalists were injured with rubber bullets and truncheons. Even hospitalized protesters were chased and abducted by policemen from their hospital beds. Perhaps, most disturbing was the evidence of police brutality, when a video showing members of the Berkut abusing a naked protester in sub-zero temperatures has appeared on the Internet.
On top of all this, the very same night people standing in the vicinity of the fighting received a text message saying: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance”.
All these events triggered a wave of riots in other Ukrainian cities, starting from the West and even spreading to the Russia-influenced Eastern regions that were standing aloof up to now.
Only after the protest went nationwide, president Yanukovych finally began a dialogue with EuroMaidan. After the opposition leaders rejected an offer of top government posts, proposed by the president, the government abolished anti-protest law and prime minister Mykola Azarov resigned. His place, however, was immediately taken by Serhiy Arbuzov who is also considered to have close ties to the president’s family.
During the last session of Parliament the deputies voted for the new law which grants amnesty only if the protesters remove the barricades and unblock other streets and squares across the country except in areas where the protest is peaceful. Moreover, according to this law freedom will be granted to only those protesters who were taking part in peaceful demonstrations.
This partial concession, however, did not seem to satisfy EuroMaidan. In fact, people promise to remain camped and continue a siege of administrative buildings until all protesters are released from the jail, governmental officials are punished for police atrocities and the president resigns.