Late last November, more than 100,000 Ukrainians filed into the streets of Kiev in response to President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of trade agreements with the European Union. The protestors marched into Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square, brandishing signs reading “Ukraine is Europe” and European Union flags, and refused to leave until the regime changed its tune.
Ukraine hasn’t exactly been quiet over the last decade — in 2004, more than 500,000 Ukrainians gathered in Kiev to protest a disputed presidential election in what has since become known as the Orange Revolution.
The root of the current situation lies not in corruption but policy, as the president has moved toward a deal with Putin and Russia, in place of the European Union agreement. The protesters want Ukraine to be a part of the European Union. The Russia deal moves them further away from that.
Since the protests began in November, the number of protesters has swelled at times up to 800,000 people and occasionally turned violent. Over the last several days, the protests have exploded into a full blown riot, with at least two people shot dead.
Below are some pictures of what’s happening in Kiev right now:
While protests continued through the New Year, they reached a heightened frenzy on Sunday, when the Ukrainian Parliament passed anti-protest laws. The laws were aimed at stamping out the anti-government protests. They had the opposite effect.
More than 200,000 people gathered in central Kiev in defiance of the “dictatorship laws,” as they are now being called by the people. The opposition leaders, such as Vitaly Klitschko (pictured) joined the protests. “Today, Ukrainian parliamentarianism is dead,” Opposition leaders declared in response to the laws.
Rioters descended on the parliament building to protest the laws.
Riot police and a blockade of military cars, mini-vans and buses greeted the rioters. A loudspeaker blared, “Dear citizens, your actions are illegal and are against the state.”
The police blocked streets to keep rioters contained. The rioters retaliated by breaking up city streets and using the bricks and stones to throw at the police.
The rioters in front of the government buildings quickly began to class with riot police.
Protestors began to set off fireworks and burn tires in protest.
This man carries a burning tire on a stick to throw towards the police.
One of the provisions of the new anti-protest laws is a ban on masks and other “face concealments.” Rioters specifically wore masks in protest.
Some rioters tossed Molotov cocktails and gas bombs at the police.
They also commandeered or overturned buses and police vehicles. Some were burned.
In response to the gas bombs and fire, police directed water cannons at protestors. In sub-zero temperatures, this qualified as an “illegal use of force.”
Later, police used rubber bullets.
The response scared off some of the protestors, but, by the night of January 19th, 10,000 rioters remained.
The violence is still ongoing after three days. Yesterday, President Yanukovych ordered a “bloody crackdown,” authorizing the use of physical force and firearms.
Police have responded by brutally attacking protesters.
Police have begun throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, and flash grenades at protestors.
Two protestors have been shot and killed by police over the last several days, in addition to another protester who fell from a building, while being confronted by the police. Many others are injured.
Opposition leaders met with President Yanukovych today, but the government is still initiating the crackdown. They’ve sent in military vehicles like this one.
As of yet, there is no end in sight.
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