Ukraine's Quest for Freedom
When several months ago I have written that Ukraine is on the path to be a second Belarus I was wrong. I was very wrong and I am happy with the fact that I was wrong.
The revolution in Ukraine was not done by any external forces, any agents, any misty associations. It was done by it's people.
Initially it was a peaceful protest of those who supported the path to join the EU in rather blurry future. Common voice expressed by commoners said that the sets of laws which would have to be implemented with the occasion of the Association Agreement could help limit corruption and mass robbery of public assets done by Yanukovych and the Ukrainian oligarchs.
Politicians from the opposition compromised with the failure of the Orange Revolution tried to use the occasion as well. They organized their own protests at the Kiev's Maidan square and initially these two initiatives coexisted next to each other, but with distrust and rather cold attitude.
On the night from 29th to 30th November these peaceful protests were attacked by special Ukrainian Riot Police (Berkut) which was then supervised by the Ministry of Interior. The Maidan Square was surrounded from every side by them and they started beating with batons. They did not care who. Soon doctors had their hands full of work with over 300 people badly beaten and in need of urgent medical assistance.
Another episode of clashes was in January just before I arrived to Kiev. By then EuroMaidan protesters organized the Self Defence Squad under command of Andriy Parubiy. Known as Samoobrona they were armed initially with plastic helmets, wooden batons and shields made of wood. Each day they exercised methods of clashes with Berkut on the small field in front of our tent just outside the walls of Maidan under the Michailovske Vrota.
On 16th January Verchovna Rada issued a number of laws aimed against the protesters. Public gathering, going in helmets, car convoys more than 5 cars were prohibited among others. President Yanukovych signed the laws by the evening with immediate legal implementation effect.
A direct result of the signing of these Dictatorship Laws, on 19th January a convoy of AvtoMaidan cars tried unsuccessfully to drive up Byl. Gryshevs'kovo with the intent of entering Parliament to protest the laws. On Byl. Gryshevs'kovo at the Dynamo Kyiv football stadium AvtoMaidan encountered a road block set up by the militia. Word soon spread across Kyiv that a confrontation was building. This confrontation attracted members of the group, “Pravoi Sektor” along with groups of Maidan Self Defence Squad (Samoobrona).
During the afternoon of 19th January while reinforcements from both EuroMaidan supporters and militia arrived, Vitaly Klichko attempted to moderate the situation and separate both parties so that no violence would escalate. In this Klichko was unsuccessful. Members of “Pravoi Sektor” and militia started attacking each other.
The situation escalated when the militia moved back behind it's road block. Leaving it's equipment exposed to the protesters, the protesters attacked the militia buses and trucks parked on Byl. Gryshevs'kovo. The mass of protesters pushed over busses and set fire to them and the trucks that were there. The burned out hulls of these vehicles quickly became the first, and at the time, only barricade set up by the protesters.
On the night of 19 January protesters and militia attacked each other; militia used gas grenades and guns, protesters threw broken bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks. Over the night, militia set up positions in front of the barricade and on the highground off the side of the road. Over the next few days the situation became fluid. At night both sides would attack. Following advances and retreats of the militia the protesters set up the second and third barricade.
Protests were all over Ukraine, but during that time the energy was focused on support of the central protest in Kiev. I very often wondered what did it remind me of. A mix of the medieval fortress with pictures from Warsaw Uprising. Organized medical aid, IT service, logistics, technical support, body armor, sleepovers, transportation, lawyers, press, PR etc. Genial organization which impressed a lot of international journalists and observers including me.
On the second night of the growing confrontation, protesters built a line of tires and set fire to them. This action stopped militia from advancing but did not stop them from throwing grenades through the smoke over the barricades. Furthermore, as the temperature dropped below freezing, militia brought up to the first barricade a water-cannon which was used against the burning tires (in vain) and against the protesters (in violation of the Law which states that water-cannons cannot be used against people in temperatures below freezing). For three days the tires burned, stopping militia from advancing. During these three days, and even before, militia, in flanking positions, shot at journalists and protesters alike. Four protesters were killed, one fell from the barricade, one was shot to death and two were kidnapped and beaten to death, later found in woodlands nearby Kiev.
With both protesters and militia in a war of attrition a cease-fire was formed. No major action from the side of the militia against the protesters took place. The cease-fire gave the protesters time to reinforce their barricades and build more barricades on their left flank, protecting them from any police action coming from the area of the Dynamo Stadium. At Maidan, too, Samoobrona and regular civilians, supporting the actions of the protesters, set up anti-vehicle barricades in Byl. Khreshatik at Europe Square and built anti-personnel barricades in front of already existing reinforced barricades at Maidan.
Through out main events which occurred on Byl. Gryshevs'kovo, a coordinated information war was taking place on the side of the government. Every night new information would filter through Facebook and Twitter stating that militsia were prepared to clean out the protester's positions on Byl. Gryshevs'kovo and Maidan itself. Over time events and actions on Byl. Gryshevs'kovo would die down. Scores of civilians offering moral support to the protesters arrived every day and night on Byl. Gryshevs'kovo. As the days went by Byl. Gryshevs'kovo, while strategically important to the protesters, became more of a tourist attraction than a modern battlefield.
Although superficial feeling of security allowed the city to go back to it's normal routine given the circumstances, Samoobrona and other protesters organized better and better body armor and helmets. With time their wooden armor changed into professional one, organized by a chain of trusted logistics.
Events of February proved that such preparations were needed and 24/7 alert of Samoobrona not in vain.