Screen capture from a video showing protesters in the eastern city of Zaporizhzhya on Sunday.
Anti-government protests in eastern Ukraine, which has traditionally had close ties to Russia, spread rapidly over the weekend, with demonstrators attempting to seize government buildings in several cities. Activists in two of these cities explain how this happened.
The unrest broke out as the country’s embattled president Viktor Yanukovich offered to appoint opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of deputy prime minister – an offer that was rejected. The country’s east had so far been more supportive of the president’s pro-Russia policies than other parts of Ukraine, but the growing protests indicate that this support is waning. Clashes were reported in cities throughout the region, including Sumy, Zaporizhzhya, Cherkasy, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kharkiv.
Ukraine’s richest man, mining magnate Rinat Akhmetov, who hails from the eastern city of Donetsk, warned authorities on Sunday against using force to solve the crisis, instead advocating for a “co-operation”. He is believed to have held a secret meeting last month with US diplomats, during which the possibility of economic sanctions against oligarchs like himself were mentioned.
“The blood spilled in the streets of Kiev made us realise we need to aspire to values closer to Europe’s”
Natalka Zubar lives in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. She is an anti-government protester who is part of the movement’s coordination council for her city.
Here in Kharkiv we’ve been having protests every day since November 22 – just hours after the protests started in Kiev. Like in other eastern cities, the protest movement is now getting bigger and bigger here. Seeing the way the government has handled the protests in Kiev and the blood that has spilled on the streets has made us realise that we need to aspire to values closer to Europe’s in order to build a better future.Here in eastern Ukraine, there is a lot of Russian propaganda. Russian TV is even more popular than Ukrainian TV, and every day its anchors talk about LGBT people controlling all of Europe, spreading sodomy, things like this. They claim all protesters are hooligans. But I think that more and more people have stopped listening.
Clashes in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk on Sunday.
“People started to realize that this was about more than a European trade deal – that our country was drifting away from democracy”
Pavlo Khazan lives in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk. He works for an environmental NGO and has taken part in the anti-government protests in his city.
Protests here started two months ago. The people involved were already open to European values. But protesters’ ranks grew massively after the Ukrainian parliament adopted terrible new legislation on January 16 [which criminalises various acts of protest]. This made people realise that this was about more than a European trade deal – that our country was drifting away from democracy. Then, a week ago, our regional council – like many others across the country – wrote a letter of official support to the national government, making people even angrier.There had been no major incidents in Dnipropetrovsk until Sunday. Protesters gathered in their usual spot, but it was an unusual day – we were paying homage to one of the men killed in Kiev who was born here in the Dnipropetrovsk region. At some point, some protesters decided that we should go to the regional administration building. I personally was against the idea, as I thought this should be better prepared, but the majority wanted to go. When we arrived, we were shocked to see that, behind a line of police officers guarding the building stood hooligans armed with sticks and baseball bats. The police let them attack us, and then dispersed the crowd of protesters by spraying us with water – though it was freezing cold out – and began making arrests. [According to local reports, 37 protesters were detained and 18 policemen injured]. Fireworks went off in the crowd, but I could not see which side they came from.Videos of these altercations are now circulating online, and the anger has far from died down. But we will do everything we can to keep protests peaceful. There are some protesters who are more radical than most, but we want to convince them that there is no use fighting violence with violence. Here in the east, what we really want is the same thing that all Ukrainians want: peace and democracy.
Protesters in front of a regional adminstration building in Zaporizhia on Sunday.