Revolution of Despair

Nothing like the ongoing violence in Kyiv’s streets has been seen in Ukraine’s 22 years of independence.People are clashing with the special police units, throwing Molotov cocktails and sometimes stones at them, while the police respond with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets…. This all can now be seen just in the downtown Kiev, at Grushevskogo Street, in very close proximity to the government district.

Why did Ukrainians resort to violence on January 19 after almost two months of exclusively peaceful protests?The answer is neither because they were provoked by radicals and ultranationalists nor because they were “brain washed” by the politicians. They did it because of despair.

16 January is now known in Ukraine as Black Thursday. On this day, 235 MPs from the ruling Party of Regions adopted a package of the draconian laws severely restricting human rights and freedoms and propelling Ukraine toward a dictatorship comparable to Belarus and the authoritarian Central Asian regimes. They include a law on criminalization of libel on the Internet and another classifying all NGOs receiving foreign grants as “foreign agents.” Ukrainians now we can get two years imprisonment for defamation on the Internet. Citizens can also be jailed for two years for group violations of the public order (a nonviolent protest action, for example) and 10-15 years in prison for so called “mass disruptions” (again, protests qualify as such).This is only a small fraction of the new offences and penalties now written into law.

It is remarkable that these laws were adopted by violating all the normal parliamentary procedures. The vote was taken by a show of hands, counted in just 15 seconds with numbers just declared. Allegedly, the number of votes was considerably fewer than 235, the number needed to achieve a simple majority in the Verkhovna Rada. The opposition did nothing to prevent these bills from being adopted.

These bills were promptly signed into law by Viktor Yanukovych. At a large meeting on the Maidan on January 19 (at which I was personally present), people chanted “We want a leader!” and “We need action!” While the opposition called for continuing the protest on Maidan, some speakers called for a blockade parliament. The agitated crowd followed that call.

The road to the parliament was blocked by the special police forces – “Berkut”, and around 3-4 PM, on Sunday, the clashes initiated by radical youth from the so-called Praviy Sector (Right Sector) began. The police has so far claimed only causalities, but no deaths.

It is clear that the escalation of the protests stemmed from the despair when all parliamentary and political options seemed to be exhausted. The demands of the protesters include cancellation of eight repressive laws, the resignation of the Interior Minister, and criminal penalties for all members of the Berkut unit who broke the law. President Yanukovych has made no concession to people two months of protest.Therefore, the ultimate goal of the protesters is the resignation of Yanukovych and early elections. Many swear to continue the struggle until Yanukovych leaves office.

The regime responded with the excessive violence. Since Sunday the 19th, “Berkut” police committed many atrocities. They shot rubber bullets at the heads and eyes of protesters and journalists and used water cannons during subzero temperatures, which is prohibited by the international conventions. They also tortured people whom they apprehended, a fact substantiated with video footage.

The terror has escalated on Ukraine’s Unity Day on January 22. While the President was congratulating people on occasion of the holiday, firearms were used, leading to four confirmed deaths. There are unconfirmed rumours that Russian snipers shot the victims. But most protesters treated the shootings as the opening of the war against the people by the government. People have also been abducted from the streets be persons in civilian clothes.One abductee, Yuriy Verbitskiy, was found dead in the forest with the traces of torture. Another, Dmytro Bulatov, the leader of protest group Automaidan is still missing.

The European Union officials have repeatedly expressed their “deep concern,” but Ukrainians expect no prompt sanctions against Ukrainian officials. They are resigned to relying upon themselves.It looks like this new stage of a revolution born out of despair is now a resolute and firm struggle for freedom.It will not end until Yanukovych resigns.

Authorities may yet employ even tougher methods to suppress the protests, such as imposing a state of emergency – this is being allegedly discussed now at the Presidential administration. But even a state of emergency is unlikely to stop the people’s revolt.Since January 24th, ten state administration regional offices across Western and Central Ukraine have been seized by protesters, who now proclaim “people’s administrations” there. In Western regions, the police did not resist these seizures.Protesters mostly abstained from looting. Only portraits of President Yanukovych were reportedly destroyed. It appears that the momentum of the protests across this country of 46 million would be difficult to break, even with a state of emergency.

“Red depicts in oblasts in which state administration offices have been seized by protesters. Black – crackdown of public protests. Pink denotes blockade of such offices, and tan public protests.”