Three months after the first anti-government protests in Ukraine, the country has experienced its deadliest day of political violence, with nine people dying in clashes between demonstrators and police. The beating heart of the pro-Europe, anti-Russia 'Euromaidan' movement is in Kiev's Independence Square (in Ukrainian, Maidan Nezalezhnosti), and the square is currently in flames after a day of police firing rubber bullets at protesters wielding molotov cocktails and fireworks. All this comes a day after Russia, which has urged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to crush the protests, sent Ukraine $2 billion in aid as a lifeline for its tanking economy.
Now, as night falls in the capital, the independent Ukrainian station Espreso TV is broadcasting a live feed of the surreal scene in Independence Square—a feed punctuated by intermittent explosions, spirited singing, and fiery speeches.
The whole thing is bracing to behold. As Hayes Brown of ThinkProgress wrote on Twitter, "I am currently watching Ukrainian riot police lineup into formation half a world away. The future is terrifying."
A Ustream feed offers a different view of the chaotic square:
Live streaming video by Ustream
We've been warned for some time now that Ukraine's political standoff could turn increasingly violent, especially since the country is deeply divided, with Euromaidan gaining traction in the country’s west and center while making fewer inroads in the Russian-leaning, Russian-speaking east and south. Writing for The Atlantic from Kiev, David Stern has observed that Ukraine's opposition movement is itself fundamentally divided, riven by power struggles and diverse ideological camps, including a far-right wing. That means Ukraine's crisis could persist for a long time even if the protesters manage to extract political reforms, force Yanukovych from power, and stand up a transitional government.
When Ukraine's protests first broke out, I asked Kateryna Kruk, a 22-year-old activist, why she was taking to the streets. Here's what she said:
Right now we stand days and nights on frost not to be part of Europe, but TO BE. We want to be a democratic state, we want to have our freedoms back, we want to feel like masters of our own country and not a playing card in someone’s game. Yanukovych thought he could play with the destinies of 45 million people; we are showing that he can’t.
A lot of my friends from European countries wonder why I am taking part in these events. My answer is simple: Who, if not me? I want to live in a better country, I want to have higher standards of life, I want to be proud of where I am from. That’s why I’m doing my best to make some changes happen. I’m not standing for leaders, for parties. I’m standing for myself, for my future.
Today, from the square, she sounded far more pessimistic:
WORSE DAY OF MY LIFE.CRACKDOWN OF #euromaidan HAS STARTED— Kateryna_Kruk (@Kateryna_Kruk) February 18, 2014