The Kiev protests began as peaceful anti-government rallies, but have now plunged into a war-like uprising. The question is whether the term “activists” can be used to describe the rioters, whose actions are not inferior to reported police brutality.
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Ferocious clashes between rioters and police in Ukraine’s capital this week have marked a new peak in tensions. In the two months of protests over the government's refusal to sign an EU-integration deal, Kiev has not seen anything as fierce or as violent as the confrontations that have taken place over the past four days.
Protests reached a heightened frenzy on Sunday, when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich signed controversial anti-protest laws. It was then that peaceful demonstrations by “anti-government protesters” evolved into an uprising by well-prepared rioters.
Photos from Kiev show near apocalyptic scenes; billowing smoke is seen emerging from burning tires, cobble stones have been ripped out by rioters and used in their standoff with police, and lines of barricades fill the city.
Hundreds of people – both rioters and police officers – have been injured in the clashes. More than 250 officers have been wounded, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs estimates that over 100 of them are in hospital. The opposition claims that on Wednesday alone, over 300 people sustained wounds in what they said was a brutal dispersal by Berkut special forces on Grushevskogo Street - the scene of the most violent confrontation yet.
An RT camera caught a police officer severely beating one the protesters lying on the ground.
Scenes of the “police brutal crackdown” overwhelmed media reports, prompting harsh condemnations of security officers’ actions “against pro-EU integration activists.”
However, footage from the scene shows that rioters were not as defenceless as they may seem.
Separated by meters-high barricades, protesters and security forces engaged in a pitched battle, pushing each other up and down Grushevskogo Street. Police tore down barricades and chased protesters down the hill from official buildings, but demonstrators regained their positions.
Law enforcement officers were seen hurling stones thrown by protesters, as well as occasionally using tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets against the rioters. The opposition has blamed the deaths of two people on security forces, though police officially denied the claims on Thursday, saying the officers were not armed with guns.
From the other side of the frontline, several dozen men set tires ablaze in the street, in an effort to block the visibility of police forces. Rioters hurled an intense barrage of stones and Molotov cocktails at police. Berkut special police unit were forced to retreat due to heavy smoke.
But the retreat only encouraged protesters - armed with broken pieces of masonry, hand grenades, and other improvised weapons - to continue. Some of the demonstrators launched fireworks at police.
“I have been at the City Hall just before the proceeding events – these guys were getting militarized, were getting mobilized, they were getting ready to go into war,” Graham Philips, a Ukraine-based journalist, told RT. “They knew exactly, they were receiving briefings, they were receiving instructions on the basis of going into war. And they went to that end to effectively instigate a civil war in Ukraine.”
Police forces protected themselves with riot shields on Grushevskogo Street throughout Wednesday evening, forming several lines.
Previous days of standoff also saw brutality from protesters. Shocking footage of January 19 clashes showed rioters armed with sticks and flares attacking cordons of security forces surrounding government buildings.
Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs published a video showing a group of officers being suddenly attacked from behind a fence on Monday. Petrol bombs were also thrown in the middle of police cordons, setting officers’ uniforms on fire.
“We have seen footage in the last 24 hours of protesters setting fire to police officers or protesters jumping on police officers and clapping them with baseball bats, and it’s absolutely appalling, that’s not what we should see in a modern democratic society,” Marcus Papadopoulos, publisher of ‘Politics First’ has told RT.
Meanwhile, a five-minute walk away from the protest hub remains Independence Square, otherwise known as Maidan - the cradle of the two-month demonstration. Unlike neighboring Grushevskogo Street, the demonstration there remains peaceful so far.