Back from Kyiv’s Independence Square about an hour ago. The atmosphere tonight resembles what I experienced on Mykhailivska square on Nov 30 – after the first storming of the student Euromaidan demonstrations. I would describe this atmosphere as “determined”. Songs and carols from the stage have been replaced by somber speeches and documentary films. The people standing on the Maidan are generally middle aged, primarily male, with very grave faces.
I went to European Square as well – although I didn’t dare get too close to the battle scene. I guess I should apologize for my lack of heroism, but 100 meters away from police lines where rubber bullets are being fired by snipers, and Molotov cocktails are being thrown by protesters, is close enough for a father of 4 small children… But even from a safe distance, it is clear that the battle is very real – lots of smoke, smoke bombs and fireworks exploding regularly, Molotov cocktails flying both from the crowd and from roof tops – all of this to the regular beat of drumming on an oil barrel.
It must be said that from a tactical standpoint, the ongoing battle makes no sense: protesters are throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks over barricades towards police lines, but most of their projectiles are not reaching their targets. On the other side, police snipers are firing rubber bullets, occasionally firing tear gas and stun grenades into the crowds, but their lines are not moving forward. The stand-off seems to suit both sides: the regime is getting footage that it can use to justify an attack by riot police on the demonstrations while young protesters have an ideal outlet for their anger, and a means to prove their heroism. Lots of testosterone flowing on Hrushevskoho tonight on the protesters’ side. I’m sorry if this sounds a little cynical, but what I saw today was truly senseless.
And the regime side is no better: young Interior Ministry troops (mostly 18-20 year old young men) are lined up behind shields in the firing line of protesters while Berkut riot police snipers move freely behind them.
Journalists seem to be a favorite target for police snipers: video footage shows that people with red “Pressa” vests were deliberately targeted by police – about 20 journalists have been hospitalized.
A final worrisome note: we stopped into Coffee House on Khreshchatyk St. between Independence Square and European Square – just outside the barricade on Maidan, but not yet in the firing line of the street battle. This cafe is normally open 24 hours. Tonight, the waitress asked us politely to settle our bill before 7pm, and when I asked why, she answered that their manager had received a phone call, and they would be closing for the evening. Whether this is because of a fear of looters, or because the phone call was a warning from the regime, I don’t know.
The next few hours will be key. Reliable sources have warned me that Berkut troops are currently waiting for orders inside Ukrainian House on European Square. If this is true, and orders to attack are given, tonight could turn into a blood bath – Ukrainian House is directly across from the battle line on Hrushevskoho Street. In between this building and the battle line, at any given moment there are 4-5 thousand young people: spectators, journalists, street fighters and supporters. If the information is true, and Berkut is given orders to attack them (both through the police lines and from Ukrainian House) massive casualties will result. Please pray that my information is wrong!
God help us!
Mychailo Wynnyckyj PhD