To say it has been cold and bloody in Ukraine for the last few months would be an understatement. Since Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych decided to publicly step away from a trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union and align Ukraine with Putin’s Russia in exchange for Russia’s cheap gas, the people of Kiev have gathered in the streets surrounding Independence Square to defend their country. This weekend, I flew to Kiev to watch the protests and violence unfold.
As I traveled from the airport to Kiev's city center in a cab, I noticed the car’s temperature gauge said it was minus 19 degrees Celsius. I asked the driver if this was normal. He laughed. “Everything is cold right now in Kiev,” he said.
Everything was cold, and many places were blocked by 12-feet high barricades. One such barricade prevented access to my hotel, so the cab driver dropped me a few blocks away from where I was staying.
Early on, a protester told me, “We want new! We want free!” This echoed the beliefs of many protesters. Since they started protesting in November, they have wanted to end Russia’s control of their country.
Instead of granting them this freedom, Yanukovych intensified the fight on January 16, when he passed anti-protest laws that make peaceful protesting a crime.
“This is a corrupt state using criminal tactics to threaten—but not suppress—the people. This is uncovering old wounds and troubles from a damaged past and now all this has exploded,” said local journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk.
This weekend, protests were violent, and police tried to clear the camps many times. However, the protesters are now a massive army; many traveled thousands of kilometers to support the opposition. Despite the high tensions, protesters refused to provoke or inflame the situation. Yesterday, one protester even reached out to riot police with a plate of oranges.
At the same time, the young protesters were realistic and gathered for fighting and resisting training in Independence Square.
Also in Independence Square, mothers, who have protesters and riot police for children, appealed for peace.
Unfortunately, the mothers haven't stopped the riots. This weekend, wreckage filled European Square.
Some structures have been protected from damage, such as the sculpture of a Soviet soccer legend.
Miraculously, some protesters have found time to rest. This one took a break by a fire:
But sadly, many members of the opposition struggle to even find this small comfort. Former opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has languished in jail for over two years.
On January 22, a special police force bus rammed the back of a car whose three passengers belonged to the AutoMaidan, a car collective that patrols Kiev and aids protesters. The three passengers were dragged out of their car and beaten. Special police officers separated the two men from K, the female passenger.
The officers forced K to lie on the street and then kicked her till they freed her two hours later. Her companions were not so lucky—they were transported on a bus and beaten some more before the special police handed them to regular police and charged them with “crimes against the state.”
They are being held for two months. Then they will appear in front of a government court-appointed judge. If they’re found guilty, they will face four to six years in jail—a fate more protesters might face depending on the outcome of the next few months.