In Kiev, 'titushki' thugs shoot live bullets at protesters
Screen grab from a video filmed by our Observer in which a man falls to the ground after being shot at.
As fighting raged between Ukrainian security forces and protesters Tuesday night, “titushkis”, who are thugs for hire, were spotted causing trouble in Kiev. Two of our Observers saw them shooting live bullets at protesters.
Titushkis are generally young, athletic men that support the government. Protesters claim they are paid by the authorities to infiltrate demonstrations and pick fights. On several occasions since the start of the protest movement in November, they have attacked protesters as well as journalists. They have repeatedly been spotted working alongside or under the watchful eye of the police.
However, on Tuesday night, they crossed a new line. Between 10 pm and midnight, a group of titushkis was seen by several witnesses in a street called Velyka Zhytomyrska. It is located between Kiev’s two cathedrals, a kilometre away from Maidan square where the anti-government protesters camp out. This video, filmed by our Observer Andrei M., shows a man getting shot and falling to the ground.
Video showing a protester falling to the ground in Velyka Zhytomyrska street after being hit by a bullet. The men who help him are carrying sticks, which is not unusual among some protesters who now directly confront the police.
“It was the first time I saw ‘titushkis’ using firearms”
Andrei M. lives in Kiev. He has regularly filmed the protests since they began. He says he has not taken sides with either the government’s opponents or its supporters.
It was about 10 pm when government opponents told me that titushkis were attacking protesters in Velkya Zhytomyrska street. I decided to go see this for myself, and brought my camera along.
When I got there, I saw at least a hundred titushkis. They try to dress like protesters, in regular clothing and yellow scarves, in an attempt to get as close to them as possible in order to better attack them. Usually, they’re armed with baseball bats and tear gas, but this time, some of them had firearms. I saw some AK-47s and Marakov pistols, similar to the ones used by the police.
This was the first time in my life I heard a bullet fly. I saw they were shooting at the group of protesters I was filming, so I ducked behind a car. I don’t know where the protester was hit, nor how many bullets hit him, but I heard quite a few shots ring out. I later learned that he died from his wounds.
Around midnight, another one of our Observers, who is an opposition activist, went to the same neighbourhood. He went to meet one of his friends at the Hyatt hotel, which is near Velyka Zhytomyrska street.
I was in the hotel foyer with my friend when we heard gunshots ring out. Then, all of a sudden, a man walked into the hotel, drenched in blood. He had been hit by a bullet in the buttocks. He asked if he could hide out in the hotel and get some help, but the hotel staff told him they didn’t have any medical supplies. Personally, I think the staff didn’t want the authorities to hear that they were helping protesters.
I went to my car to get my first aid kit and brought the man to the hotel’s restroom. We soaked up the blood and gave him some pain medication, and he left. I wasn’t able to get in touch with him afterwards to see how he was doing. But it seemed that the wound was relatively minor, so he must be okay.
While we were helping him, he told me that earlier in the evening, he had gone to a fire station to report that a building had caught fire during the clashes. He was just outside the station when he was hit by the bullet. He says it was fired by titushkis further down the street. It was as if they were trying to stop him from alerting the firefighters. When I left the hotel around 2 am, I didn’t see any titushkis, but the gunshots I heard as well as the man’s story convinced me that they were there for a while.
Another victim of violence on Velkya Zhytomyrska street on Tuesday night is Vyacheslav Veremei, a journalist who worked for the Ukrainian newspaper "Vesti". He and one of his colleagues were in a taxi, coming back from a day of reporting, when the vehicle was attacked by masked men. They forced the driver and the two journalists out of the car and beat them up. Veremei was shot in the stomach. He died from his wounds on Wednesday morning.
According to the authorities, the violence in Ukraine has led to at last 25 deaths, including nine police officers. French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned “acts of violence and repression from those in power” and called for these to stop, threatening sanctions otherwise. Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych, meanwhile, declared February 20 a national day of mourning.
Post written with France 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier).