PHOTO DIARY: EuroMaidan revolution February 2014 - Kyiv, Ukraine
On 21st November 2013 Viktor Yanukovych’s government declared it would no longer sign the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement. In a series of rallies in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s Independence Square, protesters called for greater Ukrainian ties with Europe - the Euromaidan movement had been born. On 30th November police armed with batons, stun grenades and tear gas attacked unarmed protesters and beat many who tried to escape. Some sought and were given sanctuary by the Ukrainian Orthodox church in St. Michael’s golden-domed monastery. In the wintery weeks that followed, the Maidan protesters in their barricaded tent city defied repeated attempts by police to dislodge them. Clashes escalated, and reports of abductions and torture of protest leaders and media by police were commonplace. On 16th January 2014, in an attempt to remove protesters from the Maidan, government introduced draconian anti-protest laws that criminalised public gatherings, the use of social media to criticise government officials and the wearing of facemasks and helmets - punishable by jail sentences.
A group carrying European Union flags marches towards Parliament – ‘Verkhovna Rada’. There are veteran protesters with helmets, improvised armour and metal bars, some wearing surgical masks, but most are dressed as if they are on their way to work.
Within the Maidan tent city things are quiet. Bright sun illuminates fluttering yellow and blue flags and smoke from the camp’s wood burning cooking stoves.
Protesters line up; flags and shields show their regimental emblems. They face the infamous ‘Berkut’ riot police in Roman legionary shield formation, wearing balaclavas, smoking, and looking faintly amused.
Booms so loud they can be felt from massive improvised fireworks signal that the peaceful gathering is becoming an angry protest. Police on the rooftops throw flash and gas grenades into the crowd. Masked protesters bang rhythms with metal sticks against lamp posts, shouting and singing. Industriously, people pull up cobbles to use as missiles. Dense smoke pours from burning buildings and vehicles.
Hrushevskoho Street is a scene from hell - barriers and dense, black smoke from buring tyres separate protesters from lines of shield-bearing Berkut visible in the distance.
That night the scene on the Maidan is shocking. There are hastily thrown together barricades; the protestors have lost a lot of ground in the fighting. The night sky glows red from burning tyres, and the air crackles and pops with fireworks and Molotov cocktails. People are still defiant, but there is fear.
The Maidan is crowded and the air is thick with black smoke from burning tyres. The Professional Union building which was stormed by Berkut in the night is smouldering. Despite a long night of fighting people are far from giving up. Sporadic waves of cobble stones, Molotovs and fireworks are exchanged with Berkut. While it’s chaotic, messy and uncertain there are many acts of decency... a protester with a smoke-blackened face apologises profusely after bumping into an elderly lady clutching a small bunch of flowers intended for a killed protester’s shrine...