For months now, political unrest in Ukraine has divided their country and caused mass protests. But within the last week, the protests have turned bloody. On February 16, the activists ended their occupation of Kiev City Hall in exchange for the release of 234 jailed protesters. The reforms to the constitution limiting presidential powers were stalled, and an offer from Moscow was made to resume payments under the bailout deal in return for President Yanukovych standing firm against the protesters. In response, on February 18, the activists set fires outside of parliament and began attacking riot police. The police retaliated by opening fire on the crowd who were pushed off of independence square. That day, at least 26 people died including 10 police officers.
On February 20, just hours after a truce was announced, fierce clashes erupted between protesters and police. Police were seen with assault rifles, machine guns, and snipers firing at activists who have only shields and helmets for protection, and sticks to defend themselves. The shots were meant to kill, hitting many people in the head and torso. Protesters ran into fire to drag fallen friends through the streets away from the gunfire, many of whom were already dead. In an attempt to tip the scales in their favor, the protesters captured and held dozens of police officers, who were marched, dazed and bloodied, toward the center of Independence Square. A Ukrainian Orthodox priest accompanied the officers, begging their captors not to harm them. “People are very angry,” said the priest, “but we must not act like Yanukovych does.” The death toll was anywhere from 39 (a health ministry figure) to more than 70 (a field medic’s figure) on Thursday alone.
The Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spoke on the phone with American Vice President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also met with three foreign ministers from the European Union who had come to press for a compromise solution, nearly in sight of the main conflict zone in downtown Kiev. Yanukovych has lost at least a dozen political allies, including the mayor of Kiev, who resigned from his governing to protest the bloodshed. There were signs late on Thursday that Yanukovych was closer to compromise, apparently expressing willingness to hold presidential and parliamentary elections this year.
But there is no trust between the two parties, and activists say they will settle for no less than the President’s resignation. A Ukrainian girl native to Kiev made a video in effort to get the word out about the reasons behind the protests. In the video she says, “There is only one reason, we want to be free from a dictatorship. We want to be free from the politicians work only for themselves. Who are ready to shoot, to beat, to injure people just [to save] their money, just [to save] their houses, just to save their power…We want to be free. I know that maybe tomorrow we’ll have no phone, no internet connection, and we will be alone here. And maybe policemen will murder us one after another when it will be dark here. Thats why I ask you now to help us. We hold this freedom inside our hearts, we have this freedom in our minds. And now I ask you to build this freedom in our country…” The whole video can be found on YouTube titled “I Am a Ukrainian.”