Read parts one, two, three, and four.
ukraine 4
Image via Firtka

On December 14, a benefit concert was staged at the Maidan to support activists in their struggle for freedom. A popular Ukrainian band whose songs had become a symbol of Euromaidan from the very beginning were there, so people were jubilant to hear their performance. That day on the Maidan, more than 200,000 people gathered — which was a record for the band.

In the morning we began to gather on the Maidan to get closer to the stage. The wait was not difficult, especially since we were fed and warm.

By the time the band took the stage, there was no end to the crowd; people stretched in every direction.

At some point, people began to switch on flashlights on their phones, lifting them up to the sky, one after another, and soon the whole square glowed with thousands of lights. It was an indescribably impressive spectacle and was certainly one of the most beautiful sights in my life. After such a pleasant surprise, we had a short lull. And then the fun began.

On January 16, 2014, the Parliament of Ukraine passed the Ukrainian anti-protest laws, restricting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. President Viktor Yanukovych signed them into law the following day, amid the massive anti-government protests that had started in November. Western nations have criticized the laws for their undemocratic nature and their significant restrictions on the rights to protest, free speech, and the activity of non-governmental organizations. They have been described in the media and by experts as “draconian,” claiming that they effectively established the nation as a dictatorship. The laws were widely denounced internationally with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, describing them as “anti-democratic.”

Some of them include:

  • Criminalizing “extremist activity” (which according to TI Ukraine is defined in “broad and vague terms” with a hefty fine for a first offense and up to three years in jail for a repeat offense).
  • Allowing trial in absentia of individuals, including prison terms in cases where the person refuses to appear in court when criminal proceedings in the absence of such person are pronounced possible.
  • Creating a penalty for blocking access to residential buildings of up to six years in jail.
  • Drivers of motorcades of more than 5 cars, if they cause traffic jams, face the loss of their driver’s license and vehicle for up to two years (unless permission is obtained from the Ministry of Internal Affairs).
  • Anti-mask law with the provision of up to 15 days in jail for participation in peaceful gatherings wearing a mask, camouflage clothing, scarf, helmet, or other means of concealing or protecting one’s face or head.
  • Provisions for legal governmental Internet censorship.
  • A broad definition of “extremist activities,” which disallows non-governmental organizations and churches from engaging in support of civil protests.

On January 19, Kyiv exploded.  It started with a peaceful mass rally of over 100,000 people at Independence Square. Organizers had talked of this being a chance to protest laws limiting freedom of speech and assembly. As in other Sunday rallies, leaders of the opposition – Vitaliy Klychko, Oleh Tiahnybok, and Arseniy Iatseniuk – laid out future plans for action, including forming a parallel state and parliament and a new constitution. However, the mass rally soon turned sour. The plans were vague. Then an activist from Automaidan – a protest group known for using their own cars to visit and protest government officials – proposed onstage that the Maidan field one leader to oppose the regime. However, as soon as he started making this proposal onstage, opposition organizers cut off his microphone. Later they declared that anyone who wanted a single leader from the political opposition was a provocateur.

I heard whistling and booing from the hill opposite the stage, and I was convinced that real provocateurs had broken into the crowd and were starting a fight. Then I heard similar whistles and boos.  The crowds started leaving.  I saw hundreds of them file past me as they went up Instytutskaya Street, up the hill past the barricades.  Some tall, heavy-set man leaning on a cane interviewed people with a small video camera as they passed by.  “How do you feel about what you heard at the meeting?” he asked. “Were you disappointed?”  While one woman affirmed that she wasn’t, the rest either complained about the empty phrases they had heard or they sullenly turned away from the camera and said nothing.

Image via Firtka.
Image via Firtka.

Thousands of people drifted away from the Maidan and headed in the direction of the Supreme Rada, against opposition leaders’ warnings. A crowd of people stopped at the foot of Hrushevs’kyi Street, just beyond European Square, where a cordon of riot police and police busses and trucks blocked the road.  Automaidan activists began a demonstration in front of the police barricade.  When Vitaly Klychko tried to turn the crowd back to the Maidan, members of the extremist group Right Sector doused him with a fire extinguisher.  Then Right Sector members started a fight with the riot police.  They hurled pavement stones, sticks, Molotov cocktails, and petards.  The police responded by attacking them with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, and water from fire hoses. The protestors managed to burn down all of the busses blocking Hrushevs’kyi Street, yet police forces held firm.  After 11 hours of fighting, at least 100 people were injured.

From that night on, people made Right Sector our heroes because, while opposition leaders couldn’t stop talking, these people were already acting. It also helped that their actions were rather aggressive because people wanted to fight so that the government could see how angry we were.

Image via Firtka.
Image via Firtka.

Water cannons used to douse the flames were also directed at protesters — an illegal use of force due to freezing temperatures. Later, rubber bullets were used against protesters as more police vehicles were set ablaze. Up to 10,000 rioters remained near the Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium by 10 p.m. as rioting and clashes continued — smoke filling the air from the burning vehicles. War had finally started; laws didn’t apply anymore.

Reports from Lviv indicated that demonstrators in Lviv, Kalush, and Ivano-Frankivsk blocked military units from deploying to Kiev; a similar situation was occurring in Rivne, blocking Berkut troops. Lviv troops later thanked protesters for blocking their deployment. By 3 a.m., Automaidan activists blocked all roads exiting Yanukovych’s Mezhyhyria mansion. In the early morning, protesters in central Kiev continued supplying molotov cocktails and advanced on police cordons while fortifying barricades to their rear; police continuously used water cannons, fired rubber bullets, and jammed cell phone signals.

Image via Firtka.
Image via Firtka.

By the evening, Vitali Klitschko had arranged a night-time meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych at his presidential mansion Mezhyhirya in an attempt to argue for snap elections in order to defuse the situation from escalating into further violence. The meeting ended with Yanukovych promising to resolve the crisis with a “special commission” that included representatives of the administration (including the president), the Cabinet of Ministers, and political opposition.

All in all, that was the first real step of the Maidan on our way to freedom from dictatorship. It`s sad that democracy in Ukraine was an empty word and that we had to fight for it not with speeches but with fists. The only thing we prayed about was for everyone to stay alive in this battle, but I guess our prayers were left unanswered.


Below are videos of these events. Please be cautioned that there are graphic images of police brutality.

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