A year ago today, everyone here in Kiev, indeed in all of Ukraine received a huge shock. A few hundred people had come out to protest then President Victor Yanukovich’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU, which was widely viewed as a means of improving a number of things here in Ukraine. The initial enthusiasm of those first few days was already faltering, especially as Ukrainians once again watched their president fumble around in international gatherings saying silly things, and generally making Ukraine look rather pitiful on the world stage.
Each year, the city of Kiev erects a massive Christmas tree downtown, which becomes the focal point of the city’s and the country’s New Year’s celebrations. In theory, it was time to begin the process of assembling the tree, although it’s not typical to do this before the end of November. So when the city cited the rationale for what later happened – that they needed to clear the streets in order to start putting up decorations – it had a ring of plausibility to it, even though it was a rather flimsy explanation for the way the police behaved.
As it turned out, around 4:30 in the morning of November 30th, the police went to the small crowd of demonstrators and instead of calmly, peacefully working to disperse the crowd, they chose, inexplicably, to use violent force against a group of people who were literally standing around, peacefully so. They used stun grenades and tear gas, beating both protesters and nearby citizens with batons.
And as was so indicative of the administration’s approach to the people up to that point, it was apparently assumed that the wee hours of the morning would hide the fact brutal, illegal force was the means chosen to clear the square where the people were standing. That the people would cower and run, and the job would be done.
Someone seemed to have forgotten a few key things, namely that this is the 21st century complete with mobile technology and instantaneous publishing potential via the internet, as well as the fact that a good percentage of those first protesters were young people, the likes of whom have become known worldwide for their eager use of mobile technology and the internet.
Instead of putting out the fire, it was exploded in a few seconds to something 100 times more than it had been just minutes before: People whipped out their phones and started filming the whole debacle as it was happening. The footage is hard to watch, because men and women are seen and heard screaming as they are being beaten, unarmed people who had just been standing there. There is no sense of order, there are no police carefully doing their job. This was 500 special forces police beating and chasing citizens to beat them further.*
By late afternoon, more than 10,000 had gathered, with thousands gathering in other cities in solidarity with those who’d been beaten in Kiev.
Looking back, we can mark November 21st as the first day of the protests following the non-signing of the association agreement, but November 30th marks the first of many, many days where we all looked on in incredulity at what was happening before our very eyes.
It isn’t over yet. While we watch the snow fall and think of the soldiers fighting to protect Ukraine from further aggression from Russia, we wait with heavy expectation of what deadly games the Kremlin will decided to engage in today.
*some of this information is from the Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Euromaidan#30_November_attack_on_protesters although most of it is from personal memory, having been here watching it ourselves via local media.