Scenes From Ukraine’s Bloody Revolution
Ukraine’s death toll neared 100 on Thursday as snipers and machine-gun-toting soldiers attacked protesters, medics, students, and the 19-year-old son of a policeman.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych announced a Mourning Day for the country. That same morning, police snipers started shooting unarmed protesters from the roofs of central Kiev. By the time night fell on the capital, they had killed 70 to 100 people in the bloodiest day of protests yet.
“I am dying,” 21-year-old volunteer medic Olesya Zhukovskaya wrote on her twitter feed today. She had been at the Maidan tending to the wounded and a police submachine gunner shot her in the neck. Ukrainian Facebook exploded with “Death Online” reposts, but thankfully Zhukovskaya made it to a hospital and doctors saved her life. At least 70 others were far less lucky. They weren’t paramilitaries from the Maidan’s self-defense forces but just unarmed protesters: 22-year-old Ihor Kostenko was a geography student who wrote articles for Ukrainian Wikipedia about economics and aviation. Two mortal wounds to the head and to the heart. Bohdan Solchanyk was a lecturer in modern and contemporary history at the Ukrainian Catholic University. A mortal wound to the head. And 19-year-old Ustyn Holodnyuk was a student. In a photo that went viral, his father, in a shabby policeman’s coat, holds in his hands his son’s blue helmet smeared with blood and punctured with bullet holes. Two hours before, he had talked to his son by phone: “Hey, be safe there! We are going back home.”
“Don’t worry, dad,” the boy said. “I have a blue helmet like the UNO, so nothing bad can happen!” These were his last words to his father.
Snipers crouched on the roofs of buildings along Institutska street and in the upper floors of hotel “Ukraine,” which looks out onto the Maidan. In the same hotel lobby, a field hospital was organized. “I rendered medical aid to a wounded soldiers, but police had few casualties and the protesters—hundreds,” said Olha Bohomolets, who headed up the hospital. “Policemen shoot at medics right in their red cross as a target, they wounded tens of us.”
After the bloodshed, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vitaly Zaharchenko, made a video statement: “All the extremists must surrender their guns or police will shoot”. One could ask: But what have police been doing all day long? As “Mutual Aid” coordinating board member Ihor Stepanov wrote in his Facebook, “The fires of destruction were flamed by the security services of Russia. They kill everybody, even policemen. Their task is to extend the confrontation zone and provoke the use of firearms by both sides.” This post got close to 1,000 shares. In a further sign of Kremlin involvement, protesters also reportedly caught a riot policeman and tore off a Russian military badge from his uniform. Some protesters say they found Russian small change on the ground.
In the meantime, Ukraine’s MPs divided in two groups. The first was composed of the opposition and ex-MPs from the ruling Party of Regions. They now control 239 votes when 226 is enough to pass a bill. The first bill they voted on today proposed the “Withdraw of military forces from the city center and unblock[ing of] public transport in Kyiv.” It also would return troops to their barracks, prohibit guns from being used against Ukrainians, and order the investigation of all deaths and pay compensation to the families of the victims. Critically, it also gave parliament, and not the president, the power to declare a state of emergency.
The question now is whether the police, whipped up by hatred of the protesters, will obey the parliament. And all the law is ineffective until it is signed by the president, whose brutal rule is at the root of the country’s violence.
The second group of MPs took to their heels to the airport with their families and big suitcases, undoubtedly stuffed with cash. They have lots of places to escape to. One of those rumored to have fled: Serhyi Klyuyev, who has close ties to D.C. lobbying firms and who is the brother to Andryi Klyuyev, one of the country’s most powerful politicians. Serhyi’s daughter is said to have an apartment in a luxury building at Clearwater Beach, Florida. Meanwhile, the parents of Yevhen Heller, a key member of the Yanukovych-Ahmetov clan, reportedly live in Brooklyn. While snipers are shooting students in Kiev on the orders of Heller’s boss, his family gets to take advantage of American democracy. If civil war starts in Ukraine, Heller could even ostensibly try to flee to the U.S. through America’s Family Reunion program.
Meanwhile, Yanukovych looks to be increasingly alone. State media reported that he had been prepared to declare a state of emergency, but nobody from the National Security and Defense Council signed the papers for the decree, and so he left his signature off, too. Meanwhile, someone for the opposition drafted a document for the president to read—it accused him of acting like a tyrant. Foreign diplomats have visited Yanukovych to try to persuade him to stop the carnage. But it’s clear who is real friend is: earlier, he allegedly put in a call to Moscow asking Putin if it would be possible to get some guarantees in case he needed to escape. It’s said Putin gave an evasive answer. Yanukovych was left as alone as a Führer in his bunker.