The Story of Maidan: Part 7 -First Clashes in November

Maidan defender manning the barricades

Now we look at the first violence in the last day of November 2013 while In Part 6 — A song called Revolution Ukraine we have introduced Artisto, the rapper and composer of Maidans unofficial anthem.

November 25th, 8:30pm: demonstrators notice a white government van at the European Square next tot he Ukrainian House. They believe it to carry equipment to wiretap mobile phones in the vicinity. The demonstrators overtake the van which prompts hundreds of Berkut police to rescue the officers in the van. The protesters seize the van and its equipment. The Berkut charge, a good thousand demonstrators try to hold them off. Berkut officers attack with sticks and teargas, the demonstrators charge with iron gates. People shout „The police is with the people“, a popular cheer during the Orange Revolution. But at that day the police is not. At least they back off 20 minutes later, after smoke bombs and tear gas are applied from both sides.

It is a short retreat. At a quarter to 9, more police officers arrive from Bankova street, the European square is half filled with people, it must be some thousands now. Protesters shout „down with the gangsters“ and „death to enemies“, some fights break out on the fringe of the crowd. Oleksandr Turchynov, opposition leader and interim president in March 2014 stands on the little stage and accuses the police of provoking the conflict. By 9 pm, the police officers retreat under the cheers of the people.[1]

The government will not „play around“, and so will the opposition. Arseniy Yatseniuk is clearly in revolutionary (und probably unlawful) mood when he declares on the stage: „Today we don’t have enough votes for impeachment procedure in parliament, so legally the impeachment will be blocked. But there is a real impeachment — the impeachment that is happening now in the country.“

Maidan 27 November. By Evgeny Feldman

The subsequent days see protesters continue their quest without further clashes. The authorities use the days to develop new strategies. „“I have never had anyone come into my classrooms to take attendance before,“ reports Connie Postelli a U.S. peace corps volunteer teaching at the Kharkiv Polytechnical institute. „I work in the translation (department) at the school. A man came into my classes today to take attendance, when I asked why he said he had been told to do this and that any students who were missing classes because they were at the protests were going to be expelled.“[2].

On the stage, Ukrainian singer Ruslana claims that the National Academy of Music disallows its students to participate as well as the Draomanov university. The latter one allegedly disallows students to post political commentary in social media and wear Ukraine-EU-ribbons.

Ruslana on stage at Maidan — 29 November. By Ivan Bandura via Wikimedia Commons

More universities follow in banning protests, including the Bogomolets Kyiv National Medical University. The granddaughter of it’s founder, Olha Bogomolets, physician and singer calls for the students to take to the streets. „“Those people who forbid you today to go out on the streets and express your position just demonstrate their own cowardice and disgrace the name of your university and the name of the person it was named after.”[3]

Olha Bogomolets would become a leading figure on Maidan. As far back as the 26th of November she set up a medical tent on European Square in case of injuries and she held tight even in the greatest of carnage in February 2014. In May 2014 she took part in the post-Yanukovych presidential election and received a good two percent, given her not having a political party.

Olha Bohomolez. By Юрий Рудницкий via Wikimedia Commons

The mood in Kyiv is about to change on November 29th. The Vilnius meeting makes it official that the agreement is canceled. The people are angry. In the same time, a pro-government rally is held on European square with a few thousand people. One participant claims that she was given food as payment. Other participants are said to be homeless and drunk. In the park adjacent to the parliament a few hundred vicous looking men gather. They are young, athletically built and dress partly in sportswear. 15 of them attack a journalist from a pro-Maidan citizens TV-station, beat him up and take away his camera.

Later that day the speakers on the following pro-EU-rally on Maidan warn participants to not follow the upcoming provocations of these thugs. But the day passes quietly although tense with 10.000 protesters and 10.000 riot police facing each other.

Much was done in the previous week. “Now we have all we need — tents, power generators. In just a week, a perfect civil movement called EuroMaidan, started in Ukraine,” says civil activist and co-organizer Yegor Sobolov after announcing donations from single people.

Something else has changed as well. When a week ago the protestors might have been satisfied with signing the agreement, this no longer will do. Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the oppositional Svoboda party, adopts aggressive rhetoric: “The government that didn’t lead us to Europe must be kicked out. To kick it out of the Pechersk hills, we must all be like one.” Vitaly Klitschko announces „Kick out the ‚zeck’“, using a slang word for a criminal referring to president Yanukovych.[4]

While speaking on Maidan is still possible, there is confusion in national TV about how to react. A well-liked political debate show, Shuster Live on pro-government station Inter does not go on air this night as planned. Savik Shuster is overhead saying he fears that this was his last show. He had invited the three opposition leaders. Instead the TV station airs an episode of a Russian series. 30 minutes later the talk show starts. Later it was claimed that Co-owner Serhiy Lyovochkin made a phone call demanding the show to go on air. Lyovochkin was Yanukovych chief of staff at the time. He resigns from his post two days later after the first wave of police violence.[5]

Berkut police attack protesters on the night of 30 November. By Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe — Self-photographed,

Upping the ante

On the next morning, police spokeswoman Olha Bilyk has to defend a police raid that happened in the previous night leaving 35 protesters in hospital. Her justification? Protesters were interfering with preparations to decorate the square for Christmas. The city workers had asked the police for help.

What had happened? At around 3:30 in the morning of November 30 there are only a few hundred protesters left on the square.

“First, workers in cars came to say they would wash the monument,” said Ilya Nemishaev of Simferopol. “We were trying to make them leave. We were standing in front of their cars, asking them to leave. While we were standing, riot police came — it looked like 2,000 or 3,000 of them. We were standing around the monuments, holding hands. They came closer and started beating us on our legs and then dragging us out from the circle. I covered my head, but then they hit my legs. They were beating even girls, knocking them down to the ground.”[6]

“Police have never attacked peaceful demonstrators at such large scale with so many people hospitalized,” human rights activist Yevhen Zakharov confirms.

“The first scene I saw was Berkut police officer beating a young man with a baton, trussing his hands and dragging him out of the place he was standing,“ recalls Daryna Pivtorak, a student from Ostroh Academy. „They were beating people indiscriminately — old and young people, men and women, they were indifferent.”

The few existing amateur videos show pictures that contradict the official statement. Police officers attack protesters with batons not only at the place of the christmas tree but also under the arch of the 63m high independence monument. It appears that demonstrators seek refuge there and are chased down the steps. A video by journalist Mustafa Nayyem is graphic but clear: Berkut outnumber protesters by 5 to 1. Their opponents are unarmed. Police keep on beating people even when they are on the ground.[7]

Danish freelance journalist Johannes Andersen comes late to the party but gets a good taste of Ukrainian riot control. He comments his own video of police kicking protesters on his facebook page:

”Say hello to Euro-integration, Yanukovych-style. After the clip ended I screamed the full strength of my voice and tried to appeal to the police in English as the they tried to take my phone from me. I took some straight hits to my head because i wouldn’t let them take my phone. Several policemen tried to wrest it out of my hand, but I resisted. I managed to cling on to it while I took some beats from them and got ahead of their line. There is a myth that police in Western countries is much harder on demonstrators than in Ukraine. That is not true. This all happened AFTER I complied with the police instructions and stepped back beyond the line they themselves defined for me. Apparently they didn’t like that I filmed how they kicked somebody with their feet on the pavement.“

Some protestors are able to escape the square. “They circled us and pushed us to the ground. We were singing the Ukrainian anthem. I saw a girl who’s hand was broken by police. Then (popular singer) Ruslana arrived and she advised us to go to Mykhailovsky monastery,“[8] says Yaroslava Fedorash, student from Lviv.

“Running away we ran up from Kreshchatyk Square, trying to stay away from the big streets. People were saying that the police are chasing us to beat us to death or whatever, later we got back to St. Michael’s Square and met another group. There were 70 of us and we thought we need a big place to hide,” says Ihor Zelenyi from Vinnitsa. “We knocked on the cathedral’s gate and they let us in, then we started calling politicians and journalists.” [9]

It is not even 24 hours since the prosecutor general stated that there will be no dispersal of peaceful demonstrators. It didn’t take long to prove him a wrong.[10]

Kyiv woke up the following morning a different city, Ukraine a differenct country. Not even the Orange Revolution saw this kind of violence from state police forces against it’s own people. What does it mean if the state disregards the rights of free assembly? Who gave the order? Where was the opposition when it happened?

The role of the opposition is shady. Protesters claim that the politicians aides removed the sound equipment hours before the attack. It was as if the politicians knew what was about to happen, as if they got their people and stuff out and just left the unaligned protesters alone.

“The organizers knew for sure,” said Oleksandr Ananich, 17-year-old student from Lviv. “There were rumors that the camp may be dispersed. But we were hearing these rumors every evening, so we just didn’t take them into account.”[11]

Arseniy Yatseniuk puts up the defence saying he „did all he could“ without specifying what „all“ was. Former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko claimed to know who ordered the attack but could’t yet say in public. A smaller attack was ordered by Kyiv police chief „Valeriy Koryak and a Berkut Colonel Kosiuk but the far bigger one supposedly was ordered by somebody else. Koryak admitted that police used excessive force and said he was ready to resign if the interior minister and the general prosecuter saw him responsible.

President Yanukovych himself issued a statement where he condemned the police violence:

“Several days ago I declared to all the country about my support of civil nonviolent actions. Those, who didn’t hear the words of Constitution and president and who provoked by their decisions and actions the conflict on Maidan, will be punished.“[12]

The newspaper Ukrainska Pravda released a leaked documented that allegedly was created inside the government and offerent talking points about the events of the night. It said to stress that police was provoked, that a full investigation would be done, to blame the opposition for failing to prevent the violence and to name presidential chief of staff Serhiy Lyovochkin as the one giving the orders. [13]

In a statement, interior minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko eventually stated that the police was provoked and a full investigation was under way. Lyovochkin turned in his resignation without comment.

In all this political blabber, people are gathering at the church, bringing food and tea to the refugees inside. The priests have opened up their gate to those in need and they still stand to their word. While people discuss about the events a priest approaches a group: “Please be quiet in the church,” he says. “You can be here for as long as needed, but please behave.” Others camp outside, they sing the national anthemn every hour.

We won’t forgive them what happened tonight. Never,” says Liudmyla Sivukhina. She wears high heels, a purple fur coat, heavy makeup and big anger. “Kyiv, wake up! Ukraine, Wake up,” she starts shouting together with the crowd and runs up closer to the improvised stage.[14]

By nightfall there are 10.000 people at the church square. Maidan is not finished. It just changed venue.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — -> Next Chapter 8: The march of Millions
Previous Chapter 6: A song called Revolution Ukraine
















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