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
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Life and Style
Stepping back in time: The Robshaws endured the privations of the 1950s
food + drinkNew BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain
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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?