By ALAINA URBANTKE
Thousands of protesters poured into Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych recently and unexpectedly rejected an economic pact with the European Union in favor of better ties with Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet ruler. The pact would have helped the country’s integration into Europe.
The protests began peacefully, but the situation declined quickly. Outraged people barricaded themselves in the Square, and riot police were sent to control the escalating conditions. The British Broadcasting Company deemed this “its bloodiest week in decades”. The violence deteriorated Feb. 18th, after Volodymyr Rybak, Ukraine’s speaker of Parliament, refused opposition amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution: these amendments would have limited presidential powers and restored the Ukrainian Constitution of 2004. Although physical clashes ensued, the true initiator is unclear.
According to opposition medics, riot police opened fire Feb. 19th, killing sixty; this marked the worst of violence regarding the situation. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry accused the protesters of holding sixty-seven troops hostage.
Throughout the tragedy, protesters continued to occupy Maidan, and made it their base of operations. A hotel in downtown Kiev was used as a makeshift first aid point and morgue; bodies were lined up in the hotel’s lobby, as well as on the street outside. The number of casualties totaled at seventy-seven, according to Ukraine’s government; protesters place the count at over one hundred. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry places sixteen police officers among those killed.
Violence reached an uneasy resolution Feb. 21 when Ukrainian opposition leaders and government officials signed a deal that limited presidential powers, a new coalition of government, and earlier presidential elections. Parliament also voted to free President Yanukovych and former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, from jail.
President Yanukovych left Kiev Feb. 22 for a conference in Kharkiv, a pro-Russian city. During this conference, Volodymyr Rybak resigned as speaker of Parliament. He soon will be replaced by Oleksander Turchynov, an ally of Tymoshenko’s.
Political violence of this magnitude is not unknown in American history, but it is sparse when compared to the violence of others. Dr. Chris Hammons, dean of the School of Humanities and government professor, agreed that violence outside the United States has become a more common occurrence.
“We tend to take stability for granted in the United States. You can look at the events in Kiev and understand that people who look just like us—people who could be your classmates—are involved in an armed struggle against their own government. That’s difficult for Americans to comprehend,” Hammons said. Political stability isn’t the norm. It’s the exception.”