Kiev, Ukraine – “Odinochka”, or Loner, a tall 19-year-old with a melancholic voice, shares his motives for joining anti-government protests in Ukraine’s capital with tens of thousands of others who poured onto the street after a violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in November.
He, too, wants justice, but refuses to be associated with the protesters and opposition leaders.
“I think I am a radical, as I am taking radical actions and not standing like those zombies at Maidan [Independence Square], waving lighters and singing an anthem of Ukraine every single hour,” Odinochka, who refused to identify himself with his real name, told Al Jazeera. “People sacrificed their lives. There has been bloodshed. There will only be blood for blood here. They say only blood washes off blood.”
He takes his black mask off upon request, revealing the letters “UA” – for Ukraine – shaved into the right side of his head, and a “Z” – for lightning – on the left.
Odinochka starts twisting the mask with his hands in a nervous manner as he recounts the first clashes with Berkut riot police soon after arriving in Kiev from his native city of Lutsk in early December.
“I do not usually listen to orders, and prefer working alone. But I am comfortable here in a group, because we don’t have a clear leader. Everyone is a leader and everyone is a soldier.”
‘Brink of civil war’
The country of 46 million people has seen its worst violence in 22 years since independence from the Soviet Union.
President Viktor Yanukovich’s government and his supporters point fingers at militant activists such as Odinochka – who claim to number in the thousands – and call them fascists, saying they are responsible for bringing Ukraine to the brink of civil war.
After Ukraine’s deadliest day of protests on Tuesday, Yanukovich called on the opposition to separate themselves from “the radicals”, saying it was not too late to end the crisis.
Pravy (Right) Sektor , an extreme right-wing movement actively involved in the uprising, has put pressure on opposition leaders. The movement uses swastika signs, is blamed for various attacks, and has “enough weapons to defend all of Ukraine from the internal occupiers”, according to its leader, Dmitro Yarosh.
Pravy Sektor announced on its Facebook page on the eve of the bloody confrontation that it would initiate a “peaceful march” towards the parliament building on Tuesday morning. That march turned into a full-blown battle later in the day when riot police launched an assault on the protest camp site, leaving dozens of people dead.
“Now the official opposition cannot control the people protesting in the streets,” Valentin Yakushik, a political science professor at the University of Kiev, told Al Jazeera. “They came to the tactics of vandalism, burning down some buildings, destroying cars, throwing stones, Molotov cocktails – very dangerous situation.”
Some anti-government activists such as Dima Krizskiy say there is simply no other way of forcing Yanukovich – whom they blame for corruption, repression and violence in the country – to resign.
The 20-year-old Krizskiy, the youngest leader of a group of activists, told Al Jazeera that Yanukovich is weakening Ukraine intentionally and deserves to die for it. “Yanukovich will lose his head in any case. He will not finish with a natural death. Honestly, he will either be killed by his own people or by us,” said Krizskiya.
Yanukovich will lose his head in any case. He will not finish with a natural death. Honestly, he will either be killed by his own people or by us.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko – a former heavyweight boxing champion – told Al Jazeera the government was using the hardcore demonstrators to deligitimise the entire protest movement. But Klitschko did not deny that militant activists were among the opposition.
“They are trying to show everyone as radicals. How can hundreds of thousands, millions of Ukrainians, be radicals? It’s a specially staged action to show as if the radically minded people are gathered at the Maidan [Independence Square],” Klitschko said.
“The people have been left without other options but to come out in the street and say, ‘we don’t want to live without law, in corruption’. The government is offering them only one path – to jail.”
Struggling to cope
A volunteer psychologist who works with demonstrators and activists in Kiev told Al Jazeera there are a growing number of people at the protest camp exhibiting signs of mental strain.
“Some of them might have had the problem before joining [the protest], others have been led to it by current events, lack of sleep, constant alerts, constant expectation of an attack,” said Oleh, refusing to give his surname because of a “lack of trust in government”.
“When a person expects quick changes, but they don’t happen, the frustration begins. They either go into a complete apathy, or their energy gets a boost and they go battle for their goal. Or the third scenario is falling into a depression, which sometimes leads to suicide.”
As Ukraine’s uprising drags on and violence increases, Odinochka said he knows he has been traumatised for life, seeing his friends killed, wounded and gone missing. However, he insists he has to be present, “to make a life better not only for myself, but for my future children and grandchildren”.
“I think that people will understand why we have put our lives at risk here. Those who have spent at least a week at Maidan, slept at a camp fire freezing – they have already changed for the better.”
Follow Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter: @tamila87v