Ukrainians Shocked by Violence; Hope Accord Brings Change


Late Tuesday night, Ukrainian journalist Vyacheslav Veremiy was in a taxi home from reporting at Independence Square, the center of anti-government protests in Kiev, where over 60 people have been killed in the demonstrations against President Victory Yanukovych.

Only 800 feet from the square, Veremiy and his colleague, Aleskey Lymarenko, were pulled from their taxi, beaten and shot at. Forty-eight seconds of the beating can be seen in a video posted to a Ukranian news site. Veremiy was shot in the chest, and died hours later at a nearby hospital from the severe gunshot wound. He was the first, and thus far the only, journalist killed in the Kiev uprising, which turned violent Tuesday morning after a government-opposition truce was called a mere hours before.


A few blocks away from the assault, in his apartment, another journalist Maxim Eristavi, editor-in-chief of Ukraine's First International Radio, 106FM, reacted to the loss of Veremiy, who was his colleague and friend. “For me, it’s very unusual to fear for my life or the life of my close family,” he said. “It’s not like I have experienced anything like that before.”

There are many Kiev residents with similar experiences this week. In the past few days, the capital, which has seen three months of peaceful protestors descended into chaos. The Kyiv Post reported at least 75 killed, with municipal authorities reporting 39 deaths on Thursday alone. Yesterday, the Ukrainian Parliament voted for government security forces to leave Kiev’s Independence Square to avoid further clashes, and this morning, President Yanukovich's government announced a tentative resolution to the violence, proposing a reduction of presidential power with constitutional reform and early presidential elections. This morning, after a night of diplomatic discussions, opposition leaders and Yanukovich signed a deal agreeing to early presidential elections. (Update 12:07 p.m.) Friday afternoon, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to release jailed opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko.

There are news reports questioning if the deal goes far enough, or if the election is soon enough. The Washington Post reported, “protesters on the Maidan, the opposition stronghold known officially as Independence Square, said Friday that such an arrangement was not acceptable. They have promised not to leave the square until Yanukovych leaves the presidency.”

There is hope that the deal will bring an end to the violence of the last few days, which according to Eristavi has caught many Kiev residents off-guard.


"What is unique about this situation is that Ukraine has never in the 25 years of independence, there was never a case of people being killed by the police,” said Ukranian journalist Natalyia Gumenyuk in an interview with Fusion’s Alicia Menendez on America. “So people couldn't believe it."


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“Imagine that you’re going to your job, and watching your TV shows and you’re gossiping about the new Beyonce album, and the next day your life is completely changed by brutal violence and people are lying dead on the streets,” Eristavi said. “Those are the experiences of Ukrainians; they’re not used to this kind of violence because it’s not a third-world society.”


The high death toll and the dramatic images of Independence Square’s central monument and the Trades Union building, where demonstrators were based earlier in the week, destroyed by fire have put Ukraine at the forefront of the news. Explainer after explainer after explainer in major news outlets perpetuate the Cold-War narrative, that the violence in Kiev is predominantly about the European Union and Russia trying to maintain influence in the region, and Ukrainians wanting to align with either the EU or Russia. But Eristavi said the focus on East vs. West, both inside Ukraine between political factions and outside Ukraine between the EU and Russia, is misguided.

“We’re hearing so many talks about geopolitics,” Eristavi said. “I think that distracts the readers and listeners from the real tragedy of those people who are fighting for their lives.”
Eristavi said that the violence is so concerning not only because it’s entirely new, but also because the focus on the protesters has changed over the past three months. “The first protests were about the EU,” Eristavi said, referring to how the protests started because of opposition to Yanukovych backing out of an EU trade deal. “Then it got bigger and grew into a civil rights movement. And now it’s a simple message: President Yanukovych should go.”


Eristavi said that after Thursday’s violence, protesters are more resilient than ever. "They’re determined to get rid of this government," he said. "They will not go away until they see President Yanukovich leave his presidential chair or go on trial for all these recent developments."

Gumenyuk said after news of the Parliament decision to withdraw security forces and ban firearms in Independence Square, that the protesters are skeptical of the police. “It’s very hard for the people to believe that they all of a sudden would stop violence so tension and danger is still in place.”


Eristavi described civilians around Kiev waiting on long lines stockpiling whatever supplies they can because they fear for what might come next. “This is like a real pre-war feeling, he said. “This is the first time in their lives that they’ve seen things like this, so they’re preparing and buying as much as they can in case things get worse.”

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