Another Stressful Night on Maidan
The night from Tuesday to Wednesday in Ukraine, without any exaggeration, was one of the most stressful at the Euromaidan. Thousands of riot policemen came to the Independence Square late at night to disperse protesters from the area. The government and the president clearly showed that they do not want to compromise.
The tension over the square was in the air starting Monday morning. The fully equipped troops, in helmets and with shields, began to assemble along the perimeter of the protesters. It was said that they came to the square to keep an eye on the public order. Yet this demonstration of force made it significantly difficult to deliver food, firewood and other stuff to the protesters’ camp. The riot police stood at all entrances and exits to the square.
The situation had worsened by the fact that on Monday three subway stations, located near the square, were closed because the Kyiv police received a message that bombs had been planted. The stations were closed to entry and exit; trains were passing them by without stopping. Information about a bomb came several times, but no bomb had been found. On Tuesday the situation repeated. It should be noted that these stations form the complexes between the three branches of the Kyiv metro, so long lines of passengers quickly formed. People had to wait for about 20-30 minutes to enter the station and the subway cars.
The protesters on the square perceived that information as a threat. They worried that the riot police could use the subway to attack people in the protester area. It was also announced on Monday, that the special unit Alfa raided the headquarters of the opposition Fatherland Party and seized their computer servers. They also raided the newspaper Evening News (Вечірні вісті), the website censor.net.ua (Цензор.нет) and the online TV INTV, which are located in the same building.
Later in the evening on Monday it was reported that the building of the Kyiv city administration, which is now a place for people to warm up, eat lunch and rest, shut off the lights. “So, it begins!” The activists wrote on Facebook. The protesters were afraid that shutting off the lights was the first sign that the police were preparing to storm the building, so they began to withdraw people from there. After a few hours the lights came back on.
While attention was focused on the city administration building, internal troops pushed people out of the government quarter where, since Sunday, there were tents and protesters. Without any clashes or casualties barricades were dismantled and protesters returned to the Independence Square.
But this soft pushing was just a prelude to the greater storm of the protesters the next night. At 1 a.m. on Wednesday, December 11th, thousands of riot police surrounded the square and methodically began to clean out the area. Before that, an officer read out a judgment, according to which all mass protests in the downtown were banned.
At the same time, thousands of riot police tried to break through the main barricade on Instytutska Street. The protesters created a human chain and shouted “We won’t move!” and “We won’t surrender Maidan!” More riot police came from Khreschatyk Street and tried to storm the building of the city administration. Meanwhile, women, children and priests gathered at the scene, praying and singing the Ukrainian national anthem and calling on the forces to not commit violence.
During the night, more Kyiv residents made their way to the downtown area after they saw the news on the internet. But it was difficult to get to the square because the streets were deliberately blocked. A confrontation between the people and the troops continued until the morning. During the 10-hour confrontation, 30 people were injured, nine police officers and six protesters were taken to the hospital with frostbite, broken bones and head injuries.
The development of the events clearly showed that President Viktor Yanukovych doesn’t want to negotiate, that he only understands the language of violence. After that night thousands of people again came to the square. Before the police action, people on the square were thinking about a long battle with extended positional confrontation. Now they are afraid that the riot policemen will come back.
The protesters demand the release of all those victims detained during the events at the Presidential Administration building on December 1st, a stop to the illegal trials and persecution, punishment for those responsible for the dispersal of the students on the night of November 30th; and the dismissal of the interior minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko. After the evening onslaught by the riot police, the main demand now is to stop the violence and to remove the forces.
But still, the most important requirements are: the resignation of the government and the Prime Minister, new elections of the president and parliament, the Association Agreement with the EU.
However, in the comments made by the authorities and officials, people see only cynicism and complete unwillingness to hear the protesters or to admit guilt for the events on November 30th. Even Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, during a meeting with Thorbjørn Jagland the Secretary General of the Council of Europe said that on the Independence Square that night they were not students, but provocateurs who attacked the riot police.
On Wednesday, December 11th Azarov said that the cleaning of the square by Wednesday evening was to ensure a normal life in Kyiv. And Interior Minister Zakharchenko said that “we cannot ignore the rights of other people, therefore the functioning of the capital has to continue.”
On Tuesday December 10th, the EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton and US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland arrived in Kyiv. The United States condemned the decision of the Ukrainian government to disperse protesters. And so did the European leaders. In Ukraine there is hope that European diplomats will be mediators in the negotiations between the government and the opposition.
Anna Kotaleichuk is a Ukrainian journalist and a New Eastern Europe contributor.