Behind the Barricades, a Holiday Spirit

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A lot has happened in the last two days, and not much of it good. The government survived a vote of no confidence, as expected. The president flew off to China to ask for money, making dialogue impossible. The police chief who ordered the attacks on student protesters was back in office, although he supposedly resigned. My hopes were dim.

But when we emerged from the Metro into the square, we found another world. The entire square was packed. Defensive barricades blocked all street entrances. A stage was set up for speakers and musicians, and the giant screen overlooking the square, normally used for advertisements, was in service to the protesters. Tents colonized the area, some with wood-burning stoves and generators. There was even a makeshift kitchen preparing and serving hot food.

The wooden stalls placed on the square for the holidays had been transformed into donation points for blankets and warm clothes for those brave people who stay on the square all night. Our donation of blankets and sweaters was gratefully received.

The Christmas tree, now covered in flags and banners, has become a symbol of protest. I hope someone sets up spotlights to light it up all night. There are protests all over the world, but none have a symbol like this. The Maidan is a magical place tonight.

My Friends Will be Shocked: I’m Cheering for a Republican

If you told me, five years ago, that I would be in a crowd numbering the hundreds of thousands cheering John McCain, you might be justified locking me up in a padded cell.  I am, after all, a big supporter of President Obama.

But this is 2013. And it’s Ukraine. Whatever ideological issues existing in the United States back then are nothing compared to those in Ukraine.

John McCain and Senator Chris Murphy (D), showed up in Ukraine at the Maidan today.  Senator Murphy is a young pup, only 40 years old, who wisely acknowledged McCain as the star of the show. For Americans, that is. Neither of them can hold a candle to Ruslana, the Ukrainian singer and songwriter who is the spirit of the protest.

I have been disappointed in Obama, who has not made a single public statement about the situation in Ukraine, even though events here will have a big impact on the future of both eastern and western Europe for decades to come.

Senator McCain, however, had the balls to come here and support Ukrainian integration with Europe. This is a man who was a prisoner of war. He understands what it’s like to lose your freedom. Ukraine might lose what freedom it has in the next month or two.

In 2008, I was pissed off with McCain for unleashing Sarah Palin. By doing so, he empowered the Tea Party, the greatest enemy to freedom in America since King George III. But today he made up for that. He didn’t bring Sarah with him; he brought Senator Murphy, a Democrat, who, though green, was fresh-faced, decent and respectable.

Nobody knows how the drama in Ukraine will play out. At this point, the stakes are high. Whoever loses will end up behind bars. Ukraine will either begin its journey to becoming a free, European country, or it will revert to its totalitarian past, bonded with a corrupt, regressive Russia. McCain was positive about Ukraine. I am also.

I will vote with my suitcase. For now, it will remain in my closet.


Protesters Douse Special Police

Special police forces, known as Berkut, began to dismantle barricades late last night. But the protesters pushed back, and kept Berkut at bay until daybreak. As the day grew lighter, more people rushed into the center to provide support. We were among them.

By the time we arrived, it was possible to get into the middle of the square. Berkut officers were only a few meters from us. The did not look energized. I’m sure they had a miserable night.

The protest leaders then said that Berkut was attacking the Kyiv City Administration building, which has been occupied by protesters. The crowd moved quickly to defend the building. By the time we got there, a large crowd stood in front of the building, surrounding Berkut buses that had been parked in front of the entrance.

Then a stream of water cut through the air from one of the windows. The protesters inside were hosing down Berkut officers, who took refuge inside their buses. Protesters waved flags from the windows and continued spraying Berkut. A line of regular police officers nearby did nothing to help the besieged Berkut officers. In fact, they opened up their ranks to let people get to the site more quickly.

A short time later, all Berkut left the area to the sound of cheers from the people. At night, the mood was jovial. The protesters rebuilt the barricades. This time, they added snow to the mix and watered it down so it would freeze solid.

Music and speeches continued. The message is getting more focused with time. The protest is about ideas now, not about people or specific grievances. Ukrainians want a clean break from the corrupt kleptocracy that has governed them. All Putin can offer is more of the same, but from Moscow rather than Donetsk.

For now the protesters are well defended. Their morale is high. I am optimistic again.

Protest Video via Drone: How Cool is That?

Euromaidan Kyiv

View from a video drone that hovered above us at the protest today. Russian media films the protests at 8am and says there aren’t many people. The linked article is a hilarious account of how the Russian media is covering the protests.

I have no doubt that over a million people came today. It was unbelievable.

Maybe with the Lenin statue in pieces—after it was pulled down, people smashed it with sledgehammers, kind of like the Berlin Wall—and an undeniable mass of people, they’ll figure out that Ukraine wants to take a different road.

Слава Україні!

Lenin Statue Goes Down in Kyiv, Finally

Breaking news: the Lenin statue in Kyiv was pulled down a few minutes ago. He was pulled down with ropes and smashed into the pavement. The head of the stone statue broke off. The crowd cheered and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

Skip ahead to 12:25 if you’d like to get right to the action.

The symbolism is significant. Putin will be furious: he equates the Soviet Union with Russia. And it sends a very clear message to the Ukrainian government: a deal with Putin will not be accepted. Ukraine needs a new direction, and Russia has nothing to offer.

I also found this video in Twitter. I don’t know how to embed it but you can see it on this link: Lenin Comes Down in Kyiv – video by Artur Potapchik

At last, he's down

At last, he’s down

Trafficking the Entire Population of Ukraine

One week ago, Ukraine’s elite police force, Berkut, attacked protesters in Kyiv’s Independence Square in the middle of the night. An ice-skating rink was supposed to be built there, and the national Christmas tree set up and decorated, officials explained.

But Berkut did not simply drive the protesters away. They surrounded them and beat them with truncheons. Many were taken away. About 20 remain unaccounted for, some behind steel doors in the hospital. Some may be dead.  The victim in the embedded video, beaten by almost every Berkut who passed him, is possibly among them.

Testing the market

The attack acted as an adrenaline rush to the protests. The following day, thousands more gathered at St. Michael’s Square. I was among them. At one point, a young man shouted that Berkut was on its way. He didn’t tell the crowds what to do; he just said they were coming. The crowed hesitated, then decisively moved in the direction that Berkut was coming. Suddenly, the young man said it was a false alarm. I had the feeling that he wanted to measure how afraid people were of Berkut the day after the attack.

Since the attack, protesters have been allowed to completely occupy Independence Square. There are tents, donation points for clothing, blankets and food, warm meals and tea served for free, and several occupied public buildings where protesters can warm up or sleep. There are no police in sight. What exactly, then, is going on?

The theory I find most credible is that the attack was a market test. The government wanted to find out if they could get away with violence. They learned that they cannot. Now they are testing the public in other ways, for example, imprisoning those arrested at the protests. Clearly, some of the ruling class in Ukraine have some marketing savvy.

The latest news is that Yanukovich is preparing to sign, or possibly has already signed, an agreement with Russia that will give him short-term financial relief. I have heard that any such agreement would have to be ratified by the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament.

Voting with their feet

That’s why tomorrow’s rally is so important. Members of Parliament must see that the people will not accept servitude to Putin, and that supporting the agreement will enrage their constituents. Yanukovich is too far lost: he is trying to protect himself and his family. He has lost sight of the country he is supposed to be serving.

For the last two Sundays, there have been huge mass rallies, the first drawing about 150,000, and the second nearly a million or more. The goal for tomorrow’s rally is a million. I expect a huge turnout.

Simply by showing up, the people send a message that tolerance for repression in Ukraine is limited. The bigger the turnout, the more afraid Ukraine’s rulers will be to use force or to ratify the agreement with Russia.

So much is at stake. Ukrainians didn’t have to fight for their freedom in 1991. But they have to fight for it now.

Yanukovich’s Terracotta Reception in China

Terracotta Reception

Zeka het!

My favorite Euromaidan protest slogan is “zeka het,” which literally means “prisoner, out!” It references Yanukoch’s two stints in jail in his youth.

He wasn’t in prison for anti-communist agitation. This was no Ukrainian Nelson Mandela. What I hear (but have not confirmed) is that he was in gang that punched victims out of the blue and stole their fur hats.

Hats, democracy, what’s the difference?

Ukraine’s Original Christmas Tree

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The national Christmas tree on Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) has come to symbolize the protests. When the protests began, the authorities blocked off a large chunk of the square and began to set up the tree. Later, they beat student protesters with truncheons so that holiday preparations could proceed. During the next day’s protests at St. Michael’s Square, many people chanted, “Hang Yanik on the tree!”  The police, however, secured the tree.

No longer. On Sunday, protesters liberated the tree, defying an order to stay away from the square. At first they planted flags on it. Later, they added posters. It is the most beautiful and original Christmas tree I have ever seen.

I can read some of the posters, but I need help from native Ukrainian speakers. I’ll add translations to the captions as I get them.

Yanukovich Begs China for Cash


Ukraine’s President Yanukovich is on his way to China to seek financial support, according to Reuters.

How shameful. Ukraine should be one of the wealthiest countries in Europe.  The soil here is so fertile that almost anything can grow in it. Natural resources are abundant. It lies in the center of Europe, making it a natural gateway for trade. And its people are highly educated and productive—when given the chance.

Instead of taking its rightful place at the European table, Ukraine has been reduced to begging for cash from China’s repressive, dictatorial regime. I supposed that Putin, having pulled Ukraine away from Europe, doesn’t feel the Slavic brotherly love he has been cooing about.

Do Ukrainians want money from China? I don’t think so.

Where Are the Victims of the Police Attack?

Images of burly riot police beating young protesters in Kyiv have circulated around the world, dragging the reputation of Ukraine’s government into the dirt. News reports said 35 protesters were taken into custody, but quickly released.

There are also protesters who were arrested by the Cabinet of Ministers. Some of them are being threatened with long prison sentences.

I keep hearing rumors that not all protesters have been accounted for.  I have seen videos of people who were beaten, but not of those who were dragged away. What happens to them is important.

Does anyone have information about these 35 victims? If so, please post.

December 4 update on YouTube:

One commenter provided a speedy translation, which I cleaned up a little:

Girl says that one of the victims of the police beating confirmed that he in this hospital. Doctors and police forbid anyone to visit him. The girl added that doctors only would only confirm that her boyfriend is alive. A policeman behind the steel door says, “refer all questions to the doctor.”