Open warfare broke out on the streets of Kyiv today, with at least 22 persons reportedly killed and more than 1,000 people injured. It was a day of non-stop bloodletting, smoke, fire and screeching ambulances.
The death toll was likely to rise as police went on the offensive after sundown, advancing on thousands of protesters on Independence Square at 8 p.m. with gunshots, a water cannon and an armored personnel carrier. Tents housing protesters were burning on the main square, a fire fueled by protesters with tires as a defense against police attacks.
The nighttime police raide followed an official Interior Ministry warning for all women and children to leave Independence Square by 8 p.m. Additionally, Hromadske TV reported earlier in the evening that that three armored vehicles were moved to Kyiv streets at nightfall, including at least one that was stopped by demonstrators.
Protesters stop an armored vehicle.
The Interior Ministry, physicians and opposition politicians said that by early Feb. 19 the death toll from the Feb. 18 clashes had reached 22 persons, including at least 13 civilians and nine police officers.
Some of the latest reported deaths included that of a protester who died in a hospital from wounds suffered on Feb. 18, according to opposition member of parliament Iryna Gerashchenko who is part of Vitali Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party. Also, the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that nine police officers had been killed, including two road police officers early on Feb. 19 in Kyiv’s Sviatoshyn district.
Dr. Oleh Musiy, who coordinates medical care for the anti-government EuroMaidan protesters, said that the death toll reached 20 people early on Feb. 19 before the Interior Ministry added the two new police casualties.
Dr. Olga Bogomolets, a physician, also said that the number of injured is more than 1,000 people and more likely “into the thousands.”
Five of the victims were identified as: Serhiy Didych, a member of a local city council in western Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast; Volodymyr Tishchuk of Zaporyzhia in southeastern Ukraine; Serhiy Shapoval of Kyiv; Zurab Khurtsia, 53; and Antonina Dvoryanets, a middle-aged woman.
The 20 deaths today came in renewed violent clashes that pit thousands of police and protesters against each other at several locations near Ukraine’s parliament building in Kyiv.
When added to the five protesters killed in January, the death toll in the anti-government EuroMaidan protests that began on Nov. 21 has now reached at least 25 persons — an unprecedented amount of bloodshed in protests during Ukraine’s nearly 23-year history as an independent nation.
Police said today that at least 100 police officers were injured alone, including dozens from gunshot wounds.
The Institute of Mass Information also said that more than 25 journalists covering the violence were attacked by police.
Protesters attack the regional Party of Regions headquarters in Kyiv and set it on fire.
A firefighter talks about the fire set by protesters at the Kyiv office of the pro-presidential Party of Regions office.
Independence Square on war footing after dark
As police continued to amass in the evening, the only way out of Independence Square after sunset was up the hill towards St. Michael’s Cathedral as well as on Khreshchatyk and Prorizna streets. Protesters tore up paving stones on Khreshchatyk Street, stood guard at barricades and stockpiled Molotov cocktails as if bracing for an attack by police overnight.
Thousands remained on Independence Square well into the evening, ignoring police calls to clear out and go home by 6 p.m.
Acting Security Services of Ukraine head Oleksandr Yakymenko and acting Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko issued a public warning at 4 p.m. to protesters to clear the streets within two hours: “If by 6 p.m. the lawlessness doesn’t cease, we shall be forced to used all legal means to bring order.”
Kyiv’s metro was closed by 4:30 p.m. and roads leading to Kyiv were blocked by police.
A commandant for the opposition-occupied Ukrainian House announced at 5 p.m. that police officers had stormed the building, forcing the evacuation of civilians. Police took over the state-owned exhibition hall and conference center by 6 p.m.
General Prosecutor Viktor Pshonka issued a combative statement: “For everyone who suffered, for every burned car and broken window, the organizers of the mass disturbances will carry responsibility. The general prosecutor’s office will demand the most severe punishment for those who pushed people into today’s action, and those who organized and managed them.”
Police officers beat a lone protester today.
Police beat, chase demonstrators to Independence Square
After violent morning clashes, thousands of police officers by mid-afternoon on Feb. 18 encircled the government district that includes the Presidential Administration, parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers.
They chased protesters down to Independence Square, from Institutska and Hrushevskhoho streets near parliament, banging on their protective metal shields and encouraging each other. Police also beat and kicked protesters along the way to Independence Square, leaving several seriously injured protesters on the street. One protester with a head wound told the Kyiv Post that charging police officers “smashed everybody” in their advancing path, including women and girls. Glass windows were shattered at the Khreshchatyk Street metro stop.
A police officer grabbed the gas mask of a Kyiv Post journalist on Institutska Street, and said “I love it! We love it!” of the police advance. Police showed journalists bullet holes in their metal shields to prove that demonstrators also fired on them with guns.
At October Palace, visible from Independence Square, riot threw bricks down the hill at protesters, including women, from a bridge along Institutska Street.
Also, at 3:45 p.m., hundreds of riot police advanced on Shovkovychna Street towards Ukraine’s parliament, attacking protesters.
Meanwhile, in Mariinsky Park, police and hired government thugs armed with bats — known as “titushkis” — had cornered a group of anti-government protesters inside a building on Mariinsky Park. The police and “titushkis” behaved aggressively and escorted the protesters from the building and marched them towards the center down Hrushevskoho Street. It wasn’t clear where police were taking the captured protesters.
A Kyiv Post journalist walking the northern perimeter of Independence Square on the evening of Feb. 18 saw no police presence on Mykhailviska, Sofiyivska or Mala Zhytomyrska strets, all uphill from the square and on the opposite side of the day’s violent clashes.
Opposition leaders brace for evening crackdown on Independence Square
An emergency meeting is being held today at 11 p.m. between President Viktor Yanukovych and political opposition leaders, who warned the crowd of demonsrators of an overnight police crackdown on Feb. 18.
Oleh Tiahnybok, the leader of the opposition Svoboda Party, called on all Kyivans have to join this peaceful demonstrations against today’s lawlessness. “We have to fight for Ukraine’s future,” he said, calling on the public to join “our fight against this crazy regime.” Addressing Yanukovych’s administration, Tiahnybok said: “They should know we’ll stand here until the end.”
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko made a plea for only men to stay on Independence Square.
“I would like to ask women and children to leave Maidan. It may happen that Maidan will be forcefully dispersed. And we are addressing the president and law enforcement officers to stop the standoff,” Klitschko said. “Today in the Verkhovna Rada we tried to do everything to stop the confrontation, but we were not heard. Tomorrow morning, the negotiations will start. And we shouldn’t lose any opportunity to settle the process of negotiations by peaceful means,” he said. “Be careful. We’re here and we won’t allow brutal crackdown. I’m urging Interior Ministry employees, riot police officers and those who are giving the orders to stop the bloodshed. We’ll do everything to stop the bloodshed”
Shortly before 6 p.m., opposition leader Arseniy Yatseniuk told a crowd on Independence Square that the fight is against dictatorship. He warned them to expect that police would try to clear the square of protesters, who have been massed there since Nov. 21.
“We want the Ukrainian people to regain the power and we won’t go away from Maidan,” Yatseniuk said. “This regime won’t find compromise, they were the first to shoot the activists today.”
Serhiy Sobolev, a member of parliament with the opposition Batkivshchyna Party, said that Yanukovych is afraid of elections. “That’s why he ordered to attack the peaceful protesters,” Sobolev added.
Lutsenko, the nation’s former top cop, took the stage earlier to urge police officers not to resort to violence.
“Soldiers don’t take blood onto your hands by protecting these gangsters in power. If you step foot on the Maidan (Independence Square) this is your choice. Whoever passes this threshold determines their country’s future. Nobody among the Interior Ministry generals or the president is among you soliders, I’m here addressing you,” Lutsenko said. “They are in their stolen private jets. We have a common enemy. This enemy is (President Viktor) Yanukovych and his gang who steals from you and us. You just need one more step to join us and lay down your shields. Your wives and children are waiting for you at home like heroes not like punishers. We remain here on free territory of our liberty. There will be more here soon. Don’t follow orders. You won’t be a traitor if you join us. Show your true soul and hearts.”
The crowd also chanted: “Kyiv, wake up!” and “Kyiv, stand up!” Women were asked to gather together near the stage as men took the front lines against police.
Akhmetov calls for end to bloodshed
Billionaire Rinat Ahmetov called for an end to bloodshed and a return to negotiations.
“There are no circumstances that justify the use of force against the civilian population. Peaceful people should not suffer in any case, under no circumstances,” Akhmetov said in a statement. “This has to be the main task of both the government and the opposiiton, of all opposing sides of power. Human victims and those who suffer on teh side of protesters and law enforcement during the street clashes are an inadmissable price for political mistakes.”
Clashes on Shovkovychna Street on Feb. 18
Chaos, gunshots and blood
Hours earlier, at 1:30 p.m., police officers had once again taken up sniper positions by on the roof of a five-story, commercial-residential building on 17/5 Institutska Street. Officers fired down onto crowds of protesters, after being repelled earlier in the day by demonstrators. Other officers fired indiscriminately into charging crowds of protesters.
The Institutska Street building, which protesters set on fire this morning and at one time controlled, has been the scene of today’s most violent clashes so far.
Besides firing guns, police used clubs, tear gas and flash grenades in a bid to repel thousands of demonstrators who this morning marched on the Verkhovna Rada, as parliament failed to meet today to consider opposition demands for a new constitution and new government.
Protesters struck back, armed with sticks, stones, metal bars, fireworks and Molotov cocktails and other explosives.
Police started firing guns before noon, using rubber bullets and metal bullets, in a bid to repel advancing protesters. Dozens of police and protesters were injured by 1 p.m. with the clashes continuing and the number of victims growing higher.
At least two men were shot in the head with rubber bullets, while several front-line protesters were also fired upon by police. Yet other protesters were seen bleeding profusely from the head and carried away from the scene. Protesters also attacked police officers.
Three major areas of clashes
The clashes broke out in at least three separate approaches to parliament after several thousand demonstrators gathered at 8 a.m. on Kyiv’s Independence Square: on Mariinsky Park, on Hrushevskoho Street and on Institutska Street near Shovkovychna Street. The most serious clashes were taking place on Institutska and Shovkovychna streets.
Institutska Street and Shovkovychna Street
By 1:30 p.m., police had regained control of the intersection after a see-saw battle with protesters that injured several people on both sides. Numerous police reinforcements, who had been rushed to a five-story building on 17/5 Institutska St. where protesters had trapped officers, regained control and once again took up sniper positions on the rooftop and started firing on crowds below.
Police officers on foot charged a group of protesters with shotguns and fired into the crowd, hitting at least one young man in the eye. The victim was bleeding profusely before being taken away to a hospital by several medics.
Earlier, hundreds of police officers had been repelled after trying to regain control of Institutska and Shovkovychyna streets. They were attacked by protesters. The scene was one of smoke, noise and chaos as protesters tried to block the intersection with park benches and dumpsters. One officer was beaten unconscious. Protesters were bleeding from the head. Around noon, several police trucks had been set on fire.
Before noon, at least four officers took up rooftop positions on 17/5 Institutska St., a five-story residential and commerical building, and were throwing smoke and flash grenades down on protesters who tossed fireworks back up at the police. Other officers had taken positions inside the building.
A group of protesters then stormed the building, broke windows and tried to attack the police snipers. The front entrance of 17/5 Institutska St. was set on fire as protesters shouted at police. The front entrance of the building was in flames. As police tried to exit, they were forced back inside by protesters.
At least nine protesters made it to the building’s roof, some of them brandishing metal bars, in a tense standoff. Police briefly had retreated and protesters triumphantly scaled the roof and were waving a large Ukrainian flag.
The clashes started after some two dozen demonstrators moved a police vehicle blocking their path to parliament. Many demonstrators dug up paving stones underneath their feet and passed them to the front line for dozens of fighters to throw at police. The brigade included old and young women.
Opposition lawmaker Volodymyr Ariev said on Twitter: “Law enforcers were the first to use grenades and shoot. When lawmaker Olena Kondratiuk tried to pass them, they were aiming at her legs.”
Smoke was everywhere as convoys of protesters continued to dig up and pass paving stones to front-line fighters.
Party of Regions office on Lypska Street set on fire
By 12: 30 p.m., police had regained control of a ruling Party of Regions building on nearby Lypska Street, which protesters had stormed and set on fire earlier in the day.
A group of protesters nearby at 11:30 a.m. broke into the building. Journalist and opposition activist Tetyana Chornovol was among the protesters who scaled the fence. Other protesters broke windows of the party building.
Someone with a hose inside fired water outside on the attacking demonstrators. Chornovol entered the party building and gleefully threw documents outside. A person inside the party building threw water bottles from a second floor window on protesters. There were no police or guards immediately present. Demonstrators beat down the front door with a hatchet.
Police by mid-afternoon were pushing protesters up Hrushevskoho Street, towards Arsenalna metro station near Mariinsky Park.
Demonstrators had massed on Hrushevskhoho Street, the flashpoint for deadline between police and protesters from Jan. 19-22, killing four demonstrators, including three from gunshot wounds.
Hundreds of “people’s self-defense” took up positions between barricades abandoned only a day earlier Feb. 17. A Kyiv Post reporter on the scene said they appeared to be bracing for violent conflict as riot police amassed on the other side.
Demonstrators on Hrushevskoho Street burned tires, as they have done in previous standoffs, to create a smokescreen between them and police.
Oleksandr Chaban of Kyiv came to support demonstrators on Hrushevskoho Street, but says he doesn’t believe the fight will be at this location. “Too many police officers on the other side here just stupid to fight against that. Besides that I hope the situation can still be peacefully resolved in parliament today,” he said. “Besides I hope that the sitaution can still be peacefully resolved in parliament today.”
However, 300 to 400 “people’s self-defense” fighters massed in rows, put on their masks and stood in rows as if ready for fighting. The effect was to draw police away from Institutska Street, the scene of today’s most violent clashes so far, and back down on Hrushevskoho Street.
By mid-afternoon, police drove back up to 10,000 protesters towards Arsenalna metro station from Mariinsky Park, where demonstrators earlier in the day had built barricades some 200 meters from the Verkhovna Rada.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd that chanted “fascists” as they retreated. Dozens of activists were injured in this park alone, and at least one police officer as well.
Yevhen Nishchuk, one of the emcees for the anti-government EuroMaidan protests, asked activists to stay in Mariinsky Park and near the Verkhovna Rada parliament building.
Pro-government demonstrators and “titushki” — or hired government thugs — were also in the park. Demonstrators threw stun grenades at “titushki,” filling the park with smoke. Other anti-government activists tried to keep the pro-government and anti-government forces apart.
The anti-government protesters included many members of the opposition Svoboda Party, who chanted “Together to victory!”
About 11 a.m, protesters broke down a metal fence that separated police from protesters, but were stopped in their advance by police firing tear gas. The protesters did not retreat, however, and instead built barricades.
Parliament doesn’t meet
While today’s parliamentary session had yet to start as of noon, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said that parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak, is to blame.
“I want to emphasize that the responsibility lies on the shoulders of Rybak. He received the assignment from Bankova (the Presidential Administration) not to register the bill (on returning to the 2004 Constitution lessening presidential powers) in any case.” Klitschko said. “The president can’t every time come and talk with the deputies. There is high probability that the majority can vote for returning to the Constitution of 2004 and the authorities are afraid of that.”
Parliament apparently will only consider a new prime minister and constitutional changes on Feb. 20. Oleksandr Doniy, an independent lawmaker, said: “They handed out the agenda (for today’s session) as if there is no crisis in the country. All the issues on it are secondary.”
One injured victim’s story
A young woman named Tetiana stood next to the entrance of the House of Officers around 5 p.m. today, shaking with a bandaged hand. She has been medical volunteer at EuroMaidan. Earlier in the day, her team of three medics were out at Institutska Street, helping the wounded. When riot-control police advanced, they were caught among them. The officers started kicking them and beating them with their clubs. “There were a lot of wounded protesters on the ground, and officers were grabbing us and throwing us on their bodies saying ‘They are your people, so take them, bitches!’ I’ve never seen anything like that.” She was afraid to go to the hospital for fear of being captured by police. “I’ve been a volunteer at EuroMaidan for a while and they may recognise me,” she said. “I’ve got my ring finger all swollen, and I was going to wear a (wedding) ring on it soon. And the one who is supposed to put the ring on it is now at Maidan, and I can’t stop thinking of what might happen if they’ll be storming the square.”