The Ukraine is in a full-blown uprising. What began as a peaceful demonstration in November 2013 over President Viktor Yanukovych’s pullout from a trade deal with the European Union (EU) to accept a $15 billion aid package from Russia has slowly escalated into violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police. Ground zero is Independence Square, where thousands of protesters gathered in the hopes of convincing Yanukovych to refuse the deal from what was once Ukraine’s parent government. Wanting ties to the West to foster a growing need for democracy and independence, most Ukrainians fear a return to Russian control, which may be the string attached to its aid package.
The core of the problem is that Eastern and Southern Ukraine want to maintain a connection with Russia, while Western Ukrainians want ties to the West. The split seems to favor Western Ukrainians a bit more, and has prompted a gathering in Independence Square that continues to build as more demonstrators join in. About two-thirds of Ukrainians in the capital city of Kiev favor union with the West; as a result, the city has become a focal point in the demonstrations.
Termed “Euromaidan,” the movement intended to convince the government to form stronger ties with the West. In response to the growing demonstrations, Yanukovych enacted new anti-protest laws, with the legislature including bans on covering the face and protests restricted to gatherings of under 200. As things began to heat up over the EU/Russian trade dispute, protesters began erecting barricades to limit police movements, which included buses and piles of burning tires.
Matters started turning ugly with the new year and the looming threat of an uprising. Tensions rose as Yanukovych’s government took a hard-line stance against the demonstrations with the escalation of Berkut operations. Clashes turned violent between protesters and riot police and it was not long before injuries and deaths started to mount. Journalists seemed to become a target for the police, and many reported being detained and beaten.
So things are not looking too good for Yanukovych because the demonstrators have not backed down, even after the offer of the prime minister’s position to the opposition, a resignation of the previous prime minister (which may seem like the offering of a sacrificial lamb) and a promise of sweeping government reforms. There have been use of rocks, sticks and rubber bullets turned Molotov cocktails, water cannons (reminiscent of the 1965 Watts riots), live ammunition (which both sides deny using) and stun grenades.
Scores of people are dead, and hundreds wounded. Stalled negotiations between the government and opposition have finally prompted Yanukovych to bring out the big stick: the use of all means available under the law to stop the demonstrations. Meanwhile, Russia blames the United States for meddling and the EU calls for sanctions against the Ukrainian leadership, urging for de-escalation of tensions.
A summit is planned to try to solve Ukraine’s political crisis, but it may amount to little more than “too little too late.” With Kiev as the flash point, the Ukraine seems to be in a full-blown uprising, with neither side willing to back down from opposing demands. Curiously, what is absent in this volatile mix is the involvement of the military, saying it would not support an oppressive government against the people of Ukraine.
Editorial by Lee Birdine