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Ukraine: At the point of no return

As the police violence intensifies, protesters consider their options.

Last updated: 24 Jan 2014 15:10
Olesia Oleshko

Olesia Oleshko is a Ukrainian journalist. She holds an MA in Journalism from Indiana University (USA).
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The Nigoyan family fled to Ukraine from war-torn Armenia at the beginning of the 1990s. They hoped for a better future for their son Sergiy. He wanted to become an actor, but his dream never came true. He went to Maidan to protest against the government's crack down at people's rights and freedoms and was shot dead on January 22. He was 20. 

After the murder of Sergiy Nigoyan broke the news on that day, more deaths followed. Two men fell from a 13-metre colonnade at the Dinamo stadium. One of them was shot dead, and the other one's death has become a point of contention: Protesters say he did not survive, while doctors claim the opposite. 

Soon after these deaths were announced, media burst out with the shocking news that two tortured bodies were found in a forest northeast of Kiev. One remained unidentified while the other was found to be Yuriy Verbytskyi, a Maidan activist abducted the previous night from a Kiev hospitals together with civic leader and journalist Igor Lutsenko[Ua]. Lutsenko, who was split from Verbytskyi, was beaten and interrogated by the kidnappers. They wanted to know about the main functions and operations of the protesters' camp. They wrapped his head with a plastic bag, told him to pray and left him in the forest. He made it back home, bruised but alive. Lutsenko is not the only victim of kidnapping or detention. Over 70 protesters[Ua] have been officially detained by the police and there are dozens whose whereabouts are still unknown.

Pretending that it never happened

While western governments, international organisations and human rights groups were calling on President Viktor Yanukovych to stop the bloodshed, he and his government were doing what they do best - pretending that nothing bad was happening. The president and his Party of Regions' "hawks" Justice Minister Olena Lukash and head of the National Council for Security and Defence Andriy Kliuyev met the opposition leaders. The talks did not bring any immediate results for the opposition. And sources close to the president hinted that the process might take a while. On top of that the president got himself busy with other matters of importance - giving out[Ua] national awards to his party members and law enforcement officials.

Listening Post - News Divide: Ukraine: Protests, politics and the press

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov found himself in a very unpleasant position. The Davos Economic Forum he went to, boycotted him by calling off his participation in a panel. The interior ministry, once again, tried to throw the blame on the protesters blaming them for escalation tensions. Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara conducted[Ua] multiple talks with foreign diplomats trying to persuade them that the police did not abuse their powers and that they were protecting peaceful citizens from protesters who break the law. Some statements of government supporters went beyond absurdity, saying that the protesters could have been killed by a NATO sniper[Ua], contracted by the radical wing of the opposition

None of them claimed responsibility for the death toll. None of them apologised. None of them tried to rein in the police and cease the tension. Instead, starting January 22, the police was authorised to use a more extensive arsenal[Ua] of tools against the protesters. In particular, now they are officially allowed to use water cannons despite the freezing cold weather, in addition to tear gas and smoke grenades at the protesters.

What are the protesters' options?

Reinforcement of the police force can be interpreted as a signal that the president and the government are not going to bow to protesters' demands and step down.. Thus, the hope for peaceful solution and fall of the regime through early election is fading by the minute.

Protesters' first option has always been negotiations. However, multiple attempts of the opposition leaders Vitaliy Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleg Tyahnybok to convince Yanukovych to end the violence against the people failed. The first round of negotiations with the president and his people showed that political stability and people's lives are not on the top of his priority list. The opposition "troika" didn't bring any good news to Maidan. Yet they did the best they could do, they assured the people they would stand together with them till the end and take a bullet if needed. They gave Yanukovych 24 hours to end the violence and if it does not happen, they will " go forward [Ua]", Yatsenyuk said.

This means that the second option for the protesters is "going forward" with more radical actions. Two months ago, when the protests broke out, many speculated that the peaceful nature of such gatherings was not a good argument in talks with Yanukovych. He can only understand physical force, they said. In numerous conversation, people were saying that all the "revolutions" happened in independent Ukraine were bloodless and they did not change much.

However, before going forward with more violence, the apologists of the violent methods have to revise their standing and analyse the possible consequences. Attempts to mobilise people with registered guns for protecting the Maidan from the police death squads can make government unleash a massive war against the protesters. The latter are brave and ready to fight against what they call "internal occupation". The former, however, have tanks, guns, and troops, and authorisation might come from the top to use all of that against the protesters.

The third option is persuading the Ukrainian army to join the protesters. The threat of the military, who gave an oath to serve and protect the people, might be a serious argument to use in further talks with the president. So far there have been several statements from top military command. In particular, admiral Igor Teniukh[Ua] called on the Ukrainian military to join the protesters. On January 22 Ministry of Defence issued a note saying that the military would not take part in actions against the Maidan.

Meanwhile the protesters are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. In order to prevent a possible offensive from the governmental quarter the protesters are burning tires and reinforcing barricades. Police are showering them with water again, but the fire is still burning. The buffer zone that separates protesters from their actual and potential killers is about 100 metres long. This zone separates totalitarian Ukraine from Ukraine with a democratic future.

Olesia Oleshko is a Ukrainian journalist. She holds an MA in Journalism from Indiana University (USA). 

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Editor's note: This article was updated on 24/01/2014 after new details surfaced about the death toll from the protests.

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