Why Are People Protesting in Ukraine?

At least nine people have died in clashes between protestors and police in Kiev’s Independence Square

Protest in Ukraine
Protestor at the barricades in the Ukraine, back in January Sasha Maksymenko

Clashes between protestors and police in Kiev’s Independence Square turned deadly today. Protestors, objecting to the policies of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, occupied City Hall, and anti-riot police moved into the square. Incredibly, a live feed has allowed people from around the world to watch this happen in real time.

The protests started in November, when the Ukrainian government and Yanykovych turned away from a deal with the European Union, in favor of closer relations with Russia. In the months that followed, protests erupted across the country, fueled both by anti-protest legislation and deep-seated tension that had long simmered under the surface.  

Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov wrote about the protests for the BBC

What is the source of this radicalism? It has sprung from an underlying and increasingly bitter realisation in many Ukrainians that none of the political parties represent their interests. Analysis of the 184 parties registered at the justice ministry would be a thankless task. It is enough to understand that some of the small parties can be bought reasonably cheaply and that in Ukraine, politics is about power and using that power to get rich.

The match thrown on to this smouldering mass of discontent was the introduction by President Viktor Yanukovych's government of radically authoritarian laws designed to crush peaceful, but determined, pro-European protests. Well. Nine out of 11 laws have now been abolished by an extraordinary session of parliament. Good that the president decided to choose talks, not tanks, at the last moment. 

The live video showed huge crowds of protestors surrounded by the flaming barricades, listening to impassioned speeches punctuated by music. The Ukrainian flag flew over the crowds, illuminated by the flames and by the occasional flare or firework. Many of the protestors appeared to be wearing helmets of some kind (construction, motorcycle, bike, etc.). Along the edge of the crowds, protestors holding shields held the line, while others pelted adversaries out of sight of the camera with rocks, or added whatever materials they could to the blazing barricade.    

The New York Times reports that authorities have shut down the subway system in an effort to prevent more protestors from joining the crowds:

The police advance followed hours of street battles that destroyed hopes of an early political settlement, stirred in recent days by an amnesty deal. The resumption of violence underscored the volatility of a political crisis that has not only aroused fear of civil war in Ukraine but has also dragged Russia and the West into a geopolitical struggle redolent of the Cold War.

The violence began early on Tuesday when antigovernment activists moved out of their barricaded zone around Independence Square and advanced into a government-controlled district, battling riot police officers with stones and Molotov cocktails in the worst clashes in nearly a month. A group of young militants occupied and set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Party of Regions.

The Washington Post has a good run down of what's motivating these protests. The BBC has a slideshow of images from the clashes, and Buzzfeed has assembled pictures—some are graphic—from the protests. 

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