As protests in the Ukraine move into their third month of opposition, there are reports claiming that the government has a hidden offensive against its people. While the movement seems to be gaining ground, government response has been brutal. Since the beginning of December 36 activists have gone missing and there are reports of kidnapping, torture and harassment.
Dmytro Bulatov, head of the AutoMaidan protest movement, disappeared for eight days after being ambushed on January 22. whilst travelling with his motorcade. He was found locked in a house in Boryspil, a suburb of Kiev. Villagers reportedly heard him pounding on the door. His body was covered with cuts and bruises and he testified that he had been brutally tortured and crucified. When discovered, he said he was happy to be alive. All he could say about his abductors was that they had Russian accents.
AutoMaidan organizes motorcades outside the houses of Ukrainian politicians. Protestor Yuri Verbytsky was also taken from the hospital, along with journalist Ihor Lutsenko. Lutsenko was found with severe injuries in the forest in the same suburban area of Kiev, Boryspil. Lutsenko believed that Verbytsky and others would be discovered in local police stations, but the reality was worse. Verbytsky was found dead in the forest with a bag over his head and his hands tied behind his back. It has been insinuated that the same people were responsible. Two protesters were also killed when police opened fire on a crowd during clashes near the Dynamo soccer stadium.
The secret offensive against activists began when a list of names, addresses and birth dates of prominent protestors appeared on the internet. There was also lists that circulated of the types of cars driven by the opposition to make them identifiable for torching. Now the offensive has been stepped up to kidnapping and intimidation.
Protesters have hit back with more violence against police throwing rocks and firebombs. They took to the plaza they have been occupying for weeks with pickaxes and sledgehammers to break up the cobblestones for further ammunition against police attacks.
Protests begun after President Viktor Yanukovich turned to Russia for a bailout rather than accepting a EU trade agreement that he promised to sign. The last straw for the Ukrainians came after the government responded to their peaceful protests regarding the trade union deal with anti-protest laws. Politicians then stepped up to full scale intimidation. Protesters are asking for the same freedoms as shared with their neighbouring nations, greater transparency and wealth for the people.
Since then, those anti-demonstration laws have been invalidated, the Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has stepped down and the cabinet disbanded. Yanukovich has hidden from the situation by taking sick leave, a move the opposition calls a lack of willpower and offensive to his role as leader of the nation. They claim that rather than leading the country, he is simply reacting to the events that are unfolding. Ukrainian protestors claim that Yanukovich should step down.
Yanukovich was convicted twice of violent crimes in his youth. Since his election in 2009, he has feathered his own nest with little concern for the Ukrainian people. The Orange Revolution in 2004 was in aid to prevent his campaign to assume presidential office. There were allegations of fraud and intimidation. Yanukovich had organise thousands of extra voters, who had gone to multiple polling stations to up his numbers. In addition rival candidate Viktor Yuschenko became violently ill during the campaign from suspected dioxin poisoning.
Ukrainian protesters have claim they will not stop until they get what they want, despite the harsh winter conditions and the terrible hidden offensive that their government is mounting against them. Whilst they have stated that war does not bring about democracy, the intimidation by their government has left them with little choice. They are relying on their sheer numbers to win out and the recent kidnappings and violence have not broken that spirit.
Opinion By Sara Watson