Five things to know about Ukraine’s Euromaidan

International NGO Internews Ukraine

January 27, 2014

As many international journalists addressed us to clarify the situation in Ukraine, we decided to publish the following brief account of key developments of the last days.

1. Police’s special units are inhumanly cruel

Police, especially its «special unit» Berkut, is inhumanly cruel to the protesters. Take a look at this video of severe beatings of protesters (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzVdaiwuOcY) or the video of outrageous mockery at a naked activist (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpqxmiQHFZ0). Many people are reported missing, including Dmytro Bulatov, leading activist of Automaidan (drivers’ wing of Euromaidan) whose location has been unknown for five days. Igor Lutsenko, another activist, miraculously survived after he was kidnapped from the hospital, beaten and left in a forest. Another activist, Yuriy Verbytskyi, was found frozen to death in a forest amid horrible frost (up to -20°C at night).

Many activists suffered from severe beatings and are behind the bars waiting for possibly 15-year sentence. Journalists are continuously attacked (shoot in eyes, or in cameras) while Mr Azarov, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, said that riot police acts in line with its competences. A photographer lost his eye when a police officer deliberately threw a flash bang grenade directly into his face.

After confrontation turned violent on January 19th, six protesters were killed by the police or unknown snipers, or found dead in the nearby forests. Apparently, «death squads» of police officers or pro-government armed men are operating in Kyiv and other cities, kidnapping people, violently beating them and leaving them die in nearby forests, without trials. Others are facing fabricated accusations in the Ukrainian courts. Injured, brought into the hospitals, are also facing charges of organizing mass turmoil. 

Over 100 activists have been already arrested in Kyiv only. Independent judiciary is absent, as court procedures are violated and activists often have no chance for fair justice.

You will find no matching violence from the protesters’ side. Despite incendiary bottles or stones thrown into police during the clashes, protesters never practice tortures or deliberate cruelty. Take the example of soldiers taken away by protesters from the seized building last night: they were carefully accompanied by the activists who avoided and prevented any attempts of violence against them.

2. Yanukovych regime bears major responsibility for violence

Peaceful Euromaidan protests have lasted in central Kyiv for some sixty days, under snow and in the cold, despite violence and persecutions from the Yanukovych regime.

During these two months the regime made no step back, and proposed no concessions to the pro-democratic demands of the protesters. Responsible for police violence on Nov 30, Dec 1 and Dec 11 were not brought to justice. Instead, protesters were assaulted, cruelly beaten, or arrested. Many found their lives under threat.

On January 16th the regime made a new attack on civil liberties, adopting laws turning Ukraine into an authoritarian state violating fundamental freedoms and creating legal basis for massive persecutions. This was the last drop, which opened room for more active struggle on January 19th.

3. Solution proposed by Yanukovych aims at splitting the protests

A “compromise” suggested by Yanukovych on January 25 does not address the Euromaidan’s key demands: early presidential elections, dismissal of officials responsible for violence, annulations of dictatorship laws of January 16th and signature of the Association Agreement with the EU.

Instead the Yanukovych administration proposed government chairs to some of the opposition leaders, in a clear attempt to split the protest movement.

4. Key demands of Euromaidan have nothing to do with far-right rhetoric

Nationalist radicals are present in the Euromaidan protests and represent its radical avant-garde. Nationalism’s popularity is partially due to Putin’s Russia aggressive attempt to keep Ukraine under its influence at any cost. Kremlin’s trade war against Ukraine since August is largely responsible for Kyiv’s decision to put association with the EU on hold, a move which provoked current protests. Russia’s hand is also visible in many decisions taken by Yanukovych administration. 

However, despite nationalism’s popularity, far-right rhetoric is absent from Euromaidan’s demands. Most Euromaidan activists stand for democratic values, human dignity and national sovereignty.

You will not hear anti-Semitic or racist demands from protests’ official voices, nor will you notice aggression against foreigners or immigrants.

First two dead among Euromaidan activists were ethnical Armenian and Belorussian. Today their pictures circulate on Maydan and on the internet as symbols of Ukrainian uprising.

5. Force is the only language understood by Yanukovych regime

Two months of stalemate showed that Yanukovych and his allies react only to the language of force. They agreed to negotiate only when clashes in Kyiv became serious and when protesters started seizing buildings of regional authorities in the Western and Central Ukraine.

While dealing with Yanukovych and his allies, EU should understand the way how these people think and act. Raised by street clashes of criminal 1990s, they observe three basic principles: a) the winner takes it all; b) concession is weakness, c) force is everything, dialogue is nothing.

When the EU deals with today’s regime in Ukraine it has to understand that no agreements will be kept and no tradeoffs will be duly observed by Yanukovych. Unexpected U-turn from the association agreement one week before the Vilnius summit is a clear sign of this unreliability. Force, real or symbolic, is the only language he understands. EU’s unwillingness to take a stronger stance and to impose targeted sanctions against Ukraine’s top officials and oligarchs, is therefore a mistake.

Ukrainians do not expect EU to resolve Ukraine’s domestic issues. But using the means available at the hands of the EU governments (visa bans, accounts freeze, annulations of visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and service passports, annulations of privileges of companies linked to the regime) will be the most adequate EU’s reaction.

Facing this pressure abroad, and not only within the country, Yanukovych will step back.