Article by: Borislaw Bilash II
In November 2013, President Viktor Yanukovych announced that Ukraine was suspending pursuit of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement for which the country had been preparing for since 2008. The announcement led to the largest peaceful protests seen at the Maidan in Kyiv since the Orange Revolution of 2004.
On November 30, 2013, at 4:00 a.m., as the protests dwindled, the Berkut Special Police forcefully dispersed a few hundred student-aged protesters who remained at the square, beating some with truncheons. The Ukrainian government provoked the violence by busing in thousands of plain-clothed goons and infiltrated the crowd with agents provocateurs to instigate violence and retaliation against the peaceful protesters. In the following months to come Ukrainians found numerous photos of Russian servicemen and soldiers wearing Ukrainian police and Special Forces uniforms. Rubber bullets were illegally replaced with real bullets by the enforcement police killing hundreds. Hours later, Maidan was filled with hundreds of thousands of people and Kiev’s central square had become the Revolutionary headquarters and a war zone.
The following day, December 1st, over 1 million protesters demonstrated in Kiev, demanding justice for the violent police crackdown on what was a peaceful protest at Independence Square. The assembled were less focused on the EU Agreement and more on anti-corruption. The crowd demanded the resignation of president Yanukovych.
In the early weeks of these protests, the government attempted to forcefully disperse the crowd but to no avail. The more the government pushed, the more people would show up to push back. The government paid street hooligans, called “titushkas”, to attack protesters, kidnap activists and journalists and create general chaos throughout Kyiv, while the corrupt police turned a blind eye to these hooligans.
As the days went on, more people from all corners of the country arrived in Kyiv. There was no single leader organizing the protest. In all, upwards of forty grassroots groups spontaneously came together having identified with each other and rallying around a common goal: it was time for Ukraine to rid itself of corruption.
A city of tents was erected in the Maidan and along the streets leading to it (see photos here). People organized themselves into sub-units, mainly based on areas of Ukraine from where they came. A perimeter was established with barricades erected to keep the Berkut Police at bay. A self-defense patrol called Samo-borona was established, its rules and discipline were based upon the Kozak (“Cossack”) traditions of Ukraine. It was widely believed that at the time, there was no safer place in Ukraine than the Maidan. A large stage similar to one used at rock concerts was erected in its center. The stage was active 24 hours a day. Every day after work hours, people gathered to hear the speeches of community activists as well as politicians who supported the movement. Musical & cultural artists kept the crowd entertained and in good spirits day and night. The largest crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands gathered every Sunday afternoon.
On December 11, 2013, hundreds of policemen and Special Forces units attack the protesters camp “Euromaidan”, however, thousands of Kyiv citizens rushed to help in the city center, despite the freezing temperatures, -10°C (14°F). People stood shoulder to shoulder, holding back the attackers and protecting the Maidan territory, not allowing the camp to be destroyed. In order to discredit the national protest movement, authorities started organizing actions against Maidan. “Anti-Maidan” was created: people were brought to Kyiv, most of them were either paid or threatened with loss of employment. More “Titushky” were employed to provoke clashes.
By this time multiple instances of kidnappings and attacks on the activists had occurred. Thugs were brought to Kyiv to destabilize the situation on the streets – they were burning cars, mugging and threatening people. To fight the growing criminal chaos, the citizens organized special communities, including “Auto Maidan”. Russian servicemen were known to be secretly taking part in the clashes, dressed in Ukrainian police uniforms. Such actions were against the laws of Ukraine.
The police captured and humiliated the protesters by beating them up, undressing them, and forcing them to be photographed naked in freezing temperatures. Several people died and hundreds were injured in the clashes because of brutal, illegal actions of the police. When the confrontation arose on Hrushevskyi street, the authorities started organizing assassinations and kidnappings of the injured from hospitals. After several days of clashes the police retreated. Euromaidan announced it would stay until all previously specified demands were met.
On January 16th, at Yanukovych’s demand, the corruption-laden parliament rammed through a series of anti-protest laws that came with severe penalties, making the country a de facto dictatorship. For example, the penalty for blocking the entrance to a government building during a protest was six years in jail. The Deputies made it illegal to express alternative ideas or points of view by implementing censoring of the internet and obligatory registration of websites. SIM-cards were to be sold only on the presentation of an ID card. The bill was passed thanks to a pro-presidential majority in the parliament, which consisted of Communists and Party of Regions’ members, who passed the bill without even reading it. The laws were nearly identical to those introduced in Russia after the Bolotnyana Protests of 2012.
The citizens refused to give up their constitutional rights and freedoms, and rose in rebellion against the tyranny. Hrushevskyi Street, located next to the buildings of the Government of Ukraine and Verkhovna Rada, became a battleground for protesters and the police. Firearms, stun-and-smoke grenades, and even armored fighting vehicles were used by the police and Special Forces units.
Three politicians emerged as the main interlocutors that negotiated on behalf of the protesters on the Maidan with President Yanukovych to end the standoff. They were: Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok. Their function in the crisis was unique. The crowd did not consider the trio their leaders. Instead, the three adopted the role of messengers between the Maidan and President Yanukovych. Each negotiation was considered fruitless, especially due to the fact that the foremost demand of the protesters was for Yanukovych to resign and he would not. Parallel negotiations between the Yanukovych government and European and US diplomats also took place with similar results.
The anti-protest laws infuriated the population, leading to a group of protesters to march out of the Maidan in the direction of the Parliament on 19 January 2014. These protesters were met on vul. Hrushevskoho street by the Berkut Police, transforming the peaceful Euromaidan protest into the infamous vul Hrushevskoho Riots. Following the killing of the first protesters by shots fired by the Berkut Police, negotiations continued and some of the anti-protest laws were rolled back. More negotiations and mass rallies continued through the month of February. But as before, what President Yanukovych offered was all but rejected by the Maidan. Protesters and activists continued to be kidnapped and murdered by government agents and Titushkas.
In the third week in February, protesters began a peaceful march through the streets of Kyiv but were met by Berkut officers throwing stun grenades and firing at them from rooftops. Berkut officers and Titushkas beat protesters with truncheons. More protesters were killed. The bloodiest day of the protests occurred on February 20, 2013, when government snipers perched on rooftops shot and killed 67 protesters who were armed with wooden clubs and shields made from sheet metal or wood.The massacre was filmed by professional and amateur journalists and widely distributed on the Internet.
In all, more than 100 protesters died at the hands of the government and thousands more were injured. President Poroshenko claims there is evidence that Putin’s aid, Vladislav Surkov organized and directed a team of foreign snipers that killed the protesters on the Maidan. The Ukrainian security chief later admits that the sniper attacks which started the Ukrainian coup were carried out in order to frame others. Ukrainian officials admit that the Ukrainian snipers fired on both sides, to create maximum chaos.
These peaceful protesters against a tyrannical government sought change and were left to fight against paid snipers and yes-men police, who fired upon them even as they were collecting the injured, with only sticks and stones. And many fall for the propaganda to turn in our privilege of protecting ourselves with guns because we think our government is not corrupt?
By February 22, the shock created by that bloodshed had prompted a mass defection by the president’s allies in Parliament and prodded Yanukovych to join negotiations.The stand-off grew increasingly tense as the world was preoccupied with the Olympics taking place in Sochi, Russia. It was widely believed that Russia had a strong hand in whatever was occurring in Ukraine following its independence in 1991. For this reason, there was concern that once the Olympics were over, Russia would overtly intervene in the crisis.
President Yanukovych, European diplomats and the interlocutors of the Maidan scrambled to draft an agreement that would put an end to the crisis. Instead of resignation, the agreement included a clause that would accelerate the date of the next presidential election. The agreement was angrily rejected by the crowd gathered at the Maidan mourning the lives of the “Heavenly Hundred,” as those who perished are now known. An ultimatum was declared giving Yanukovych until morning to resign. Meanwhile, his own security cameras recorded Yanukovych packing up his estate in preparation for fleeing the country. Once it was discovered that Yanukovych had fled, parliament was called into session and formally removed him from office.
Parliament then meticulously proceeded to reorganize the cabinet, with votes being unanimous or nearly so. Parliament appointed Oleksandr Turchenov was as acting president while Arseniy Yatsenyuk was appointed prime minister. Parliament voted to revert to the 2004 constitution, with Ukraine as a parliamentary republic, in which the prime minister and the parliament had more power than the president. New presidential elections were called for May 25, 2014. The Euromaidan Protests are now known as the Revolution of Dignity as it was always about ridding the nation of corruption.
The world watched horrified as Ukraine descended into political chaos in the winter of 2013-2014, and street fighting broke out in Kyiv between anti-government protesters and legions of riot police.
Over three months, the center of a European capital was transformed into a war zone, and striking images of battles between police and protesters were regularly flashed across television screens.
Remote from the scene, many people outside the country were left wondering just what was going on in this corrupt, unreformed but up-until-then peaceful former Soviet republic.
Adding to the confusion, Kremlin-controlled media in Russia pushed its own, largely false narrative of the causes and possible consequences of Ukraine’s second revolution in a decade.
At the center of the action in Kyiv, journalists from Ukraine’s English-language newspaper, the Kyiv Post, help to cut through some of that confusion with award-winning reporting, documenting the unfolding crisis, and later Russia’s covert, hybrid war on Ukraine, in writing and in photographs.
Now, two years after those dramatic 93 days of mass public protests in the Ukrainian capital, the Kyiv Post has collected together the memories and impressions of those times from some of those who covered them on the ground, in “Ukraine: Witness to Revolution,” the Kyiv Post’s first e-book.
Containing dozens of photographs and links to over 80 minutes of dramatic video, “Ukraine: Witness to Revolution” is the story of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan Revolution, told by those who witnessed it firsthand. Weaving together 15 essays by Kyiv Post journalists, the e-book text gives a concise but detailed history of the events in Kyiv from Nov. 21, 2013 to the opening shots in Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine in mid-April 2014.
And as Ukraine gradually disappears from headline news around the world, “Ukraine: Witness to Revolution” also brings readers up to date with the ongoing tasks and challenges facing Ukraine as it continues to battle for full independence from Moscow, while attempting to transform itself into a western-oriented liberal democracy.