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Ukraine: the first casualties of the anti-government protests

Anti-government protests in Ukraine have ceased to remain peaceful. The constant ignoration of protesters by the authorities and their attempts to resolve the political crisis in the country by force, have led to exacerbation of the conflict. The clashes between the law enforcement units and protesters resulted in the death of 3 to 5 people, according to different sources.  All deaths are a direct consequence of unprofessional and openly brutal police actions. The Open Dialog Foundation urges the international community to intervene in the situation.

Anti-government protests in Ukraine, which have been simmering for the past 2 months, became radicalised following the adoption of a series of laws greatly restricting the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Ukraine by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on 16 January, 2014 which were passed in breach of proper procedure. On 19 January, 2014, fierce clashes broke out between the police and protesters and so far, haven’t stopped. Hrushevskogo Street (located in close proximity to Independence Square) became the centre of the confrontation; thousands of protesters are attacking police barricades, using incendiary mixtures, bricks and sticks. The tools employed by the police against protesters include non-lethal weapons, tear gas, stun grenades, stones and incendiary mixtures.

On the morning of 22 January, 2014, two activists were fatally injured during attacks carried out by workers of the ‘Berkut’ Special Forces on protesters. One of them, 20-year-old Sergey Nigoyan, suffered gunshot wounds to the head and neck. The other activist’s identity has not yet been determined. According to journalists, he received a gunshot wound to the heart. The death of two activists was confirmed by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine. The department also reported that the activists had been killed as a result of the use of firearms. At the same time, the Ministry of Internal Affairs denied the use of firearms. It is worth noting that the law prohibits police officers to use firearms in crowded places.(Article 15 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On Militia’).

The death of several other activists is yet to be officially confirmed. According to journalists, one activist who fell the day before, on 21 January, 2014, from a 13-metre colonnade at the Dynamo Stadium, died from his injuries in the intensive care unit of one of the city’s hospitals. The activist fell from the colonnade after ‘Berkut’ workers arrived and proceeded to beat persons present.

In addition, on 22 January 2014, Oleg Musiy, coordinator of the medical service of the National Resistance Headquarters, informed journalists that five activists had been killed upto that point, four of which had clearly suffered gunshot wounds. He also reported that in just one day: 22 January 2014, more than 300 people had been injured.

The Open Dialog Foundation wishes to emphasise that all the deaths of protesters are a direct consequence of unprofessional and openly brutal actions, undertaken by law enforcement officials who must bear responsibility for the fatalaties.

Numerous items of photographic and video evidence show that riot police workers are acting with extreme brutality, transgressing the boundaries of permitted methods for prevention of unrest. The police units are failing to perform their direct functions, i.e. ‘ensuring security and public order, prevention of crime and its termination’ (Article 2 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On Militia’). Cruel and inhuman actions of the riot police workers was one one of the main factors which provoked public unrest. According to the law, the use of force by riot police officers “shall not exceed the level, necessary for the fulfilment of the duties and the possibility of causing damage to the health of offenders should be minimised”. During clashes with protesters, Special Forces officers brutally beat activists who were not showing any signs of resistance.

It is also worth noting that the riot police workers, having at their disposal a wide range of special means by which to counter offenders (stun grenades, non-lethal weapons, tear gas, truncheons), actively use incendiary mixtures and stones which they throw into the crowds of protesters. Such actions appear to be attacks against activists constituting revenge for their previous attacks on police barricades, rather than attempts to resolve the conflict.

When using non-lethal weapons, workers of ‘Berkut’ Special Forces are aiming at the heads and hearts of protesters. That was the immediate cause of death of the two activists. In just a few days of clashes, approximately 1,500 activists have been injured. As a result of misuse of non-lethal weapons, several dozen journalists have sustained wounds. Many of them sustained bullet wounds to the head. The majority of journalists are wear special brightly coloured vests marked ‘Press’; therefore, the police couldn’t have been unaware of the fact that they were shooting at journalists . (More information here and here).

In this situation, the authorities continue to ignore the demands of hundreds of thousands of protesters and pretend that they are keeping the situation under control.

The meeting between the ambassadors of Great Britain and Germany with the Minister of Justice of Ukraine, Elena Lukash and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Leonid Kozhara, ended in scandal. Foreign diplomats expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that they hadn’t been given an opportunity to speak at the meeting. “You show us some Hollywood films here (at the beginning of the meeting, the representatives of diplomatic missions were shown a film about the events on Hrushevskogo Street with a commentary indicating that law enforcement officials had been badly injured – Ed.), and we are not permitted to say a single word. You have been delivering speeches for 67 minutes, and never did you express your regret over the deaths of two people (on Hrushevskogo Street – Ed.)”, – the Ambassador of Germany to Ukraine, Christoph Weil, stated.

Thus far, attempts to launch negotiations between the government and the opposition could also be considered unsuccessful. On 20 January, 2014, both parties declared their readiness to engage in a dialogue. Nevertheless, representatives of the opposition insisted that President Viktor Yanukovych would be personally involved in the negotiations as a representative of the authorities. However, he instructed the Secretary of the National Security and Defence, Andriy Klyuyev, to present the position of the authorities. The opposition flatly refuses to conduct negotiations with Andriy Klyuyev, who is considered to be the organiser of the violent dispersal of Euromaidan. On 22 January, 2014, Viktor Yanukovych declared his readiness to negotiate.

We should bear in mind that in the official statement of the President of Ukraine on the occasion of the Day of Unity of Ukraine (celebrated on 22 January, 2014), Viktor Yanukovych did not include one word about the dead activists. Nor did Prime Minister of Ukraine, Nikolay Azarov, who had openly labelled the protesters ‘terrorists’, mention this fact.

The escalation of violence and brutality on the streets of Kiev illustrates the inability of the Ukrainian authorities to soberly assess the danger of the conflict. The Open Dialog Foundation hereby urges the international community to immediately intervene in the situation in order to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine. We urge the U.S. government and the EU member states to immediately implement more rigid sanctions against people involved in the death of activists in Kiev. The question of the situation in Ukraine should be considered as a matter of priority at the UN Security Council meeting. Also, we call upon the competent bodies of the EU to put togethera crisis management group which would mediate in the conflict and send it to Ukraine.