Kiev Burns as Protests in Ukraine turn Deadly

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Anti-government protesters guard the perimeter of Independence Square, known as Maidan, on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

Kiev is smoldering after a night of violent fighting between government forces and protesters in Independence Square.

Dozens are dead and hundreds are injured in Ukraine's capitol city. Yesterday fires lit up as thousands of protesters violently clashed with riot police in a desperate attempt to turn the tide in the battle over the future of reform in Ukraine.

Zenon Zawada, political analyst at Concord Capital investment bank and writer for The Ukrainian Weekly, is in Kiev and was at the protests last night. He gives us an update on the situation on the ground.

John Herbst, former Ambassador to the Ukraine from September 2003 to May 2006, weighs in on what the violence means for the future of Ukraine.

"This weekend there was an attempt at compromise, and the opposition actually offered some concessions," says Zawada. "However, the government was not very responsive to those concessions and the protest that was planned for yesterday was planned as a peaceful march, but things got out of control very quickly."

Zawada says that protesters tried to occupy the parliament building and that's when the violence began and things "spiraled greatly out of control." Once the initial conflict erupted, Independence Square—the main location where protests have taken place—was taken under siege by riot police, who fire bombed the Square and even used molotov cocktails themselves, according to Zawada. 

In the weeks leading up to yesterday's violent clashes, Zawada says that opposition leaders had been trying to avoid violent flair ups.

"There are several reasons for this," he says. "One of them being that they are fearing having to face criminal responsibility for any violence. Also from a moral point of view, they don't want to take moral responsibility for leading people into violence. I would argue that they've been doing their hardest to prevent people from reacting this way, but the protests to a large degree has been beyond their control."

When looking into the future, Zawada says that the current outlook for a possible resolution is bleak.

"There's very thin signs of a peaceful resolution," he says. "The government is highly inflexible and it's hostile to the opposition. There's not much hope for a way out. European diplomats are on their way, but so far the solutions being proposed by the West have been inadequate."

A Strategy of Aggression 

Since the opposition and the government have been unable to reach a state of compromise, the current chaotic state will likely continue, says Ambassador Herbst.

"[President Viktor] Yanukovych's strategy has been to fluctuate between offering halfhearted concessions and repression, which he can't quite pull off," says Ambassador Herbst.

Ambassador Herbst says that over the weekend both sides offered concessions—the government offered amnesty for the protesters and the protesters offered to withdraw from government buildings. While those steps were taken, it didn't stop violence from erupting again in Independence Sqaure.

"It looks like the protesters may have crossed a red line of the government by moving towards the parliament," says Ambassador Herbst. "But then the government responded with much too much force—with disproportionate force—leading to reports of 25 dead and many hundreds injured."

The strategy of aggression being pursued by the government is deliberate and intentional, according to Ambassador Herbst.

"I think Mr. Yanukovych's preference was to use force to fix his problems," he says. "It's worth remembering that the initial protests were just about Yanukovych's decision to walk away from an agreement with the E.U. But then when he cracked down, protests of tens of thousands turned into protests of hundreds of thousands. Of course many people in Ukraine are fed up with the authoritarian policies of Mr. Yanukovych. But while he tried repression, each time he's tried it, he's failed. It's not clear that he has the forces to really repress the protesters."

Ambassador Herbst says that this crisis was made in Ukraine and will be resolved by Ukraine, despite outside actors.

"Russia is the most influential outside actor, and by and large it has used its influence for deplorable purposes to push the Yanukovych regime to use force," says Ambassador Herbst. "The E.U. is the next most influential actor because they remain a vision for Ukraine and a possible partner."

In December, Russia tried to thwart the growing Ukrainian dived and exert its influence by throwing the nation a massive financial lifeline by agreeing to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian bonds and lower the cost of natural gas. Yet, these efforts have failed to sway the Ukrainian populace.

"Yanukovych thought back in December that the gift from [Vladimir] Putin in the form of lower gas prices and $15 billion of loans would solve his problems—that was foolish," says the ambassador. "The protesters are not going to find gifts from Russia—if in fact they are gifts because we don't know what kind of hidden price there may be with those gifts—as a reason to back away from its protests against the authoritarian policies of the Yanukovych government."

Can sanctions against the Yanukovych government help quell the violence? Listen to the full interview to find out.

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in central Kiev on February 18, 2014. Five people died on February 18 as anti-government protesters clashed with security forces in central Kiev, a police spokeswoman said. 'Five civilians died as a result of the mass unrest in Kiev,' Kiev police department spokeswoman Olga Bilyk told AFP.

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in central Kiev on February 18, 2014. Five people died on February 18 as anti-government protesters clashed with security forces in central Kiev, a police spokeswoman said. 'Five civilians died as a result of the mass unrest in Kiev,' Kiev police department spokeswoman Olga Bilyk told AFP.

 An anti-government protester stands on Independence Square, known as Maidan, on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. After several weeks of calm, violence has again flared between police and anti-government protesters, who are calling for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union.

An anti-government protester prepares to throw a brick during clashes with riot police in front of the Parliament in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Five people died on February 18 as anti-government protesters clashed with security forces in central Kiev, a police spokeswoman said. 'Five civilians died as a result of the mass unrest in Kiev,' Kiev police department spokeswoman Olga Bilyk told AFP. 

An anti-government protester takes part in clashes with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. Protesters braced on February 19 for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kiev after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis. As dawn rose over Kiev's battered city centre, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square. 

Anti-government protesters throw cobblestones as they clash with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. Protesters braced on February 19 for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kiev after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis. As dawn rose over Kiev's battered city centre, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square. 

An anti-government protester wearing a helmet stands on Independence Square in Kiev during clashes with the police early on February 19, 2014. Protesters braced on February 19 for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kiev after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis. As dawn rose over Kiev's battered city centre, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square. 

Anti-government protesters clash with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. Protesters braced on February 19 for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kiev after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis. As dawn rose over Kiev's battered city centre, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square. 

Anti-government protesters clash with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. Protesters braced on February 19 for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kiev after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis. As dawn rose over Kiev's battered city centre, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square.

A man holds a teddy bear with its mouth and paws pasted up in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, to commemorate the victims of the violence wracking Kiev, on February 19, 2014. Ukrainian riot police approached Kiev's main opposition camp after at least seven people were killed in the bloodiest day of clashes in nearly three months of protests.

A wounded anti-government protester is pictured during clashes with police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Police also responded with smoke bombs after protesters hurled paving stones at them as they sought to get closer to the heavily-fortified parliament building. 

Anti-government protesters throw cobblestones as they clash with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. Protesters braced on February 19 for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kiev after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis. As dawn rose over Kiev's battered city centre, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square. 

Anti-government protesters clash with police in front of the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Police also responded with smoke bombs after protesters hurled paving stones at them as they sought to get closer to the heavily-fortified parliament building. 

Anti-government protesteras take part in clashes with the police on Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014. Protesters braced on February 19 for a fresh assault by riot police in central Kiev after a day of clashes left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence since the start of Ukraine's three-month political crisis. As dawn rose over Kiev's battered city centre, protesters hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at lines of riot police that had pushed into the heart of the devastated protest camp on Independence Square.

Burnt out vehicles remain after protesters clashes withpolice in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Police also responded with smoke bombs after protesters hurled paving stones at them as they sought to get closer to the heavily-fortified parliament building.

A young anti-government protester takes part in clash with police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Police also responded with smoke bombs after protesters hurled paving stones at them as they sought to get closer to the heavily-fortified parliament building. 

Anti-government protesters clash with police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Police also responded with smoke bombs after protesters hurled paving stones at them as they sought to get closer to the heavily-fortified parliament building. 

Anti-government protesters clash with police in in the center of Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Police also responded with smoke bombs after protesters hurled paving stones at them as they sought to get closer to the heavily-fortified parliament building. 

Policeman evacuate a wounded colleague during clashes with anti-government protesters in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Ukrainian anti-government protestors on Tuesday took back control of Kiev's city hall following bloody clashes with riot police just two days after vacating the building, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. Protesters guarded the entrance and some 30 activists were setting up a first aid point inside the building, which the opposition had left on Sunday as part of an amnesty deal with the authorities. 

Anti-government demonstrators stand among the smoke of burning barricades during clashes with riot police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko on February 18 urged women and children to leave the opposition's main protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square, known as Maidan, as riot police massed nearby. 'We ask women and children to quit Maidan as we cannot rule out the possibility that they will storm (the camp),' the former heavyweight boxing champion told protestors on the square.

Anti-government protesters are wounded after the clash with the police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police said seven officers died from gunshot wounds, while authorities and demonstrators said five civilians were also killed in the clashes, bringing the death toll to at least 16. Hundreds of people were injured, including dozens of police officers, some with serious wounds. 

Anti-government protesters are wounded after the clash with the police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police said seven officers died from gunshot wounds, while authorities and demonstrators said five civilians were also killed in the clashes, bringing the death toll to at least 16. Hundreds of people were injured, including dozens of police officers, some with serious wounds.

Anti-government demonstrators stand on barricades during clashes with riot police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko on February 18 urged women and children to leave the opposition's main protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square, known as Maidan, as riot police massed nearby. 'We ask women and children to quit Maidan as we cannot rule out the possibility that they will storm (the camp),' the former heavyweight boxing champion told protestors on the square.

Anti-government protesters are wounded after the clash with the police in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police said seven officers died from gunshot wounds, while authorities and demonstrators said five civilians were also killed in the clashes, bringing the death toll to at least 16. Hundreds of people were injured, including dozens of police officers, some with serious wounds.

An anti-government protester stands in front of burning vehicles at the Security Service building in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on February 18, 2014. Anti-government protesters in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on February 18 seized the regional administration building and police headquarters as clashes raged in Kiev, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. Some 500 demonstrators stormed the regional administration after bombarding it with stones before taking the control of the local police headquarters in the largely pro-EU city.

Guests:

John Herbst and Zenon Zawada

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [2]

CAROLINE from NJ USA

And. . . "Never the twain shall meet." . .But, could they?

In all of these upheavals, no matter where they are in the world, it is very difficult to discern who is thriving on the violence, and adding to it, and/or who's doing their best to work out difficult questions within parameters of decency and decent. The governments or military [whoever is in charge] wants the outside world to keep their distance, let "them" handle their own business.

It is incredibly difficult to help! We [USA] knows, because we've jumped and been dragged into conflicts with little knowledge of the REAL reason(s) for the up-heave. Bush thought he "knew" but didn't; so did many before him . . And the more people there are in the world, the more complex becomes grievance, and difficult it becomes to understand depth of misery. All we know is people are in pain and showing their pain in painful ways - lashing out from both sides . . . gains what(?) no-gain; no understanding.

Feb. 20 2014 01:03 PM
Cathleen Akers from Denison, TX

Shouldn't the question, "When did you reach your peak?" rather be something to be answered by others after we've died? To me, reaching a peak connotes being at the top and that everything afterwards may well be downhill! How depressing to think if I'd already reached my peak! Do you really mean something more along the lines of, "When did you come into your own?" Personally, I sincerely hope at 44 that I have yet to reach my peak. I think I came into my own--a real comfort with and acceptance of myself --came in my early 30s.

Feb. 19 2014 12:55 PM

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