Ukraine protests: what exactly is going on in Kiev?

Why people are angry and what happens next

Over the past week shocking pictures have emerged from the Ukraine's capital, Kiev.

Plumes of black smoke billow over the city, fires rage in the scorched skeletons of cars, and hundreds have been wounded, with two confirmed dead. Hordes of riot police are on the streets and the EU's justice chief has said the country is sliding towards civil war. Unless you've been following the events from the beginning it's difficult to glean why tensions are now strained to breaking point. Here's the basics.

Why are people protesting?

It's been going on for two months. In November President Viktor Yanukovych decided to pull out of a treaty with EU, an agreement many felt would have paved the way for the Ukraine to join the union. It looked like he was going to sign the agreement before performing a U-turn, which has made Ukrainian disappointment all the sharper. However the government would rather stay friendly with Putin in return for favourable treatment. The protesters think it would benefit ordinary people far more to be aligned with the EU and consider Yanukovych a man who only represents the interests of the richest.

Thick black smoke from burning tires engulfed parts of downtown Kiev as an ultimatum issued by the opposition to the president to call early election or face street rage was set to expire with no sign of a compromise Thick black smoke from burning tires engulfed parts of downtown Kiev

Ukraine: President Viktor Yanukovich offers top government posts to opposition leaders including Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko  

If this was in November, why is it making headlines now?

Most recently tensions spilled over in violence after Yanukovych introduced new anti-protest laws designed to end the demonstrations. The laws banned protests from taking place without the government’s permission and threatened those who disobeyed with up to ten years in prison. The legislation also introduced hefty fines for wearing masks or helmets to demonstrations, as well as driving bans for convoys of more than five cars. Internet media outlets have to register with authorities and no amplifiers are allowed in public places. Many people feel the government is trying to repress the truth and remove their rights. This protest is now more than a pro-EU movement, it is fuelled by anti-government feeling, with many activists seeing their cause as a fight against corruption. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister and Interior Minister, and also the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Protesters use a large slingshot to hurl a Molotov cocktail at police in central Kiev Protesters use a large slingshot to hurl a Molotov cocktail at police in central Kiev

What does Vitali Klitschko have to do with it?

The former heavyweight boxing champion is one of three opposition leaders and is strongly in favour of the EU. The other two leaders are Oleh Tyahnybok, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party. Writing in The Independent, Chatham House fellow James Sherr thinks Klitschko is a real contender to be the next leader and offer a political solution to the crisis. However he also thinks things are going to get worse before they get better.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko (right) with a one of the Kiev protesters Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko (right) with a one of the Kiev protesters

Where are all the flames coming from?

A line of burning tyres marks the barricade between protesters and police. Among the demonstrators are radical nationalists, some of whom have been pictured hurling Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs at riot police. Two activists have been killed by gunshot wounds, but officers deny responsibility. A third activist has been found dead in a forest outside Kiev, reportedly showing signs of torture. A 17-year-old student told the BBC he was stripped naked by police, beaten, slashed with knives and cut across his anus. He was eventually taken to hospital. Earlier this week ministry apologised after video footage emerged showing police humiliating a protester in custody, making him walk around naked in the snow. Allegations of torture are going to be raised by Ukrainian MP Irena Seh, the BBC reports.

Who are the Berkut?

The Berkut are a special unit of officers attached to the Interior Ministry and their purpose is to control large crowds. They are known for their brutality and at least one Ukrainian private TV station, ICTV, has  openly criticised riot police for their actions toward protesters. Amnesty has called for a investigation into allegations of abusive use of force by officers from the Berkut riot police force during the break up of a riot in November.

  A protester prays as he holds an open Bible during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev A protester prays as he holds an open Bible during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev

What is ‘the Maidan’?

The Square of Independence or Maidan Nezalezhnosti is the centre of the protests. It has long been the focus of political protests, of which the latest has been dubbed the ‘Euromaidan’. The automaidan is where supporters stop their cars in a circle, forming a barricade. Maidan means square.

What next?

There are fears that the riots could spread beyond Kiev, with protesters reportedly besieging or stormed government buildings in at least four cities in western Ukraine on Friday. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned Mr Yanukovych in a phone call on Thursday that the European Union may take action if he doesn’t end his crackdown on protesters, and ambassadors have discussed the possibility of sanctions. President Yanukovych has called an emergency session of parliament next week to discuss the protests.

 

This player is used within article copy as first element. Default size is 630w but FC code uses it for 460w article layout.
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot