Ukraine protestors prepare for next onslaught

By bne IntelliNews February 19, 2014

Harriet Salem in Kyiv -

The Ukrainian authorities' attempts to clear protestors from Kyiv's central Independence Square, or Maidan as it's known, saw a night of extreme violence on February 18, with reports of 25 left dead. However, during the lull the following day, those in the protest camp insist they have little choice but to fight on.

If Ukraine's last revolution was coloured orange, this one is the red and black of blood and smoke. On the morning of February 19, soot clouds hung heavy over Maidan, the iconic 70m-high copper and gold statue of Ukraine's protector Berehynia almost hidden.

The frontline smoulders, still alight in places; police shields are dimly visible in the distance. Speeches from the stage continue, but the formerly festive atmosphere of Maidan is gone. In its place are the war wounded, and the grimly determined.

"Berkut set our tents on fire, they threw grenades from up there, they do not care if the people burn with them, they do not care how many people they kill, so now this is a war," says 27 year-old Oleh Vovk, a member of the Maidan defence unit.

To his left fireworks are still being launched across the haze of the frontline, a bizarre blaze of colour amidst the apocalyptic scene. "I cannot believe that this is real, that this has happened. People look on the television and they can see in Ukraine this battleground," he adds. "So I guess we are now soldiers".

"This night is one that will never be forgotten in Ukraine, this will stay in the imagination of people until they die," says Aleksandar, a 57 year-old businessman from Kyiv. Aleksandar was not on the streets last night but he came on the morning of February 19 to assist the protesters who are preparing for the next onslaught.

"Our government is slaughtering people, this is the action of a dictator like Hussein or Gaddafi. And for what?" he asks. "For Europe? Where is Europe? I think that America and Europe do not care about Ukraine."

All around him the square is slowly being dismantled. Elderly women work alongside young men use ice pickets to break apart cobbles, metal railings are being removed to reinforce the diminished barricades. "This square is being taken apart piece by piece like our president has done to our country," says Aleksandar as he hoists of sack of stones onto his back and heads towards the still burning front lines.

Svetlana, 27, from Lviv sits hunched on a stall. Behind her smoke is still pouring from the trade union building, formerly Euromaidan's HQ, which was set ablaze by the police during the violent clashes on the night of February 18. She is pouring petrol into glass bottles; rags lie on the floor around her. Miniature Molotov cocktail factories, like this one, have popped up across the Square.

"I am not for violence, I am for peaceful protest. But what choice do we have when we are being shot at?" Svetlana asks. "We must defend ourselves or die here. I have a five year old daughter at home. How should I explain this to her? That our country is being killed because of greed and power."

Artem Melnichuk, a 19 year-old student from Kyiv sits next to his father by a campfire. "I never think I would have this situation in my life to fight alongside my father," he says. "Last night was like a war, at first I was a little scared, but then the adrenalin kicks in and you forget who you are, you just do it. This is a revolution so there is no choice anymore but to be brave and to fight."

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