A strong wind blew along Kiev’s streets Monday night, as if nature, too, were joining in to support the public outrage and political chaos in Ukraine over the past few days. Even those who never went to opposition protests turned out in force after police used tear gas and stun grenades against peaceful demonstrators on Saturday. By Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people had flooded Kiev’s main arteries, according to some estimates. Crowds stormed City Hall to set up a temporary “revolutionary headquarters,” and still occupied the building Monday. Others fought with police outside of the presidential administration building on Bankovaya Avenue. If, at the beginning of the protests last week, the opposition demanded authorities sign a trade agreement with the European Union, on Sunday their intentions became more serious—to change the government in Ukraine.
Violence led to more violence. On Sunday, furious protesters drove a tractor into a line of riot policemen. For their part, police clubbed people on their heads, paying little attention to whom they were beating—men or women, protesters or journalists covering the events.
Over 40 reporters were wounded in the chaos. In turn, protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the rows of police, injuring dozens of cops.
On Saturday, most protesters were representatives of the so-called creative classes—the teachers and professionals of the capital. But by Sunday, radical-ultra nationalists had joined what was becoming a big riot on Bankovaya Avenue. The protest movement looked less and less peaceful. A few revolutionary individuals brought long sticks to the presidential building, the better to fight with police; activists from an ultra-nationalist party called Svoboda were yelling anti-Russian slogans, perhaps understandably, but also anti-Jewish slurs.
On Monday, a celebrity reporter and local television host, Mustafa Nayyem, was taking photographs when he felt a police club crashing on his head. Thankfully, he said, he was wearing a hood that protected him from a more serious concussion. “This is different from the Orange revolution, as this protest does not have leaders—it is the entire Ukrainian nation uniting in solidarity against violent authorities,” Nayyem said. He was surprised to see hundreds of thousands rise up over night. “Even apolitical people like my own parents spend days and nights outside in order to save our country’s future.”
Wounds and bleeding faces did not scare people away. In spite of rumors that authorities were about to declare an emergency, which would allow the government to deploy soldiers in the capital, protests continued through Monday: about 5,000 people surrounded the building where the Cabinet met, so that the government, concerned about its safety, made a decision to work from home. Thousands stood in the former heart of the Orange Revolution, Maidan Square. Just as in 2004, protesters were warming themselves with improvised stoves. Some cheered with tea to the news that President Viktor Yanukovych had relented and asked European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to receive a delegation from Ukraine.
Ukrainian political analyst Marina Pirozhuk told the The Daily Beast that President Yanukovich’s attempts to roll back his previous decision—to halt talks with the European Union—might be too late. “We had about one million people protesting on the streets last weekend—nobody could ever expect that from Ukraine; people are waiting for tomorrow’s Parliamentary decision about the president’s impeachment and prosecution of the interior minister. If Rada [the Parliament] chooses against the opposition’s demands, we might see even a bigger uprising,” Pirozhuk said.
So far, the Kremlin has been careful with the chaos in Kiev, said a member of president Putin’s Council for Facilitating the Development of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights of the Russian Federation, Sergei Markov. “Europe is too mad at Putin for his aggressive anti-EU politics with Ukraine, so for now we’ll just wait for this pseudo-revolution to fade away,” Markov said. “The only serious threat to Yanukovych’s power would be if as many 25 or more of his deputies quit his party, then he would lose his parliamentary majority,” Markov added.
Putin did comment on the riots on Monday, insisting that they had nothing to do with Ukraine-EU relations and accusing protesters of seeking to disrupt upcoming elections. “What is happening now is a little false start due to certain circumstances … This has all been prepared for the presidential election. And that these were preparations, in my opinion, is an apparent fact for all objective observers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Angela Merkel of Germany told Yanukovych, “I think it’s the Ukrainian people who should be disappointed … I think today’s Ukrainian leadership has chosen a way which is going nowhere.”
“We expected more,” Merkel said.