By Jeya Lorenz & Madeleine Bair
Protests in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities had been brewing for weeks—peacefully for the most part, until last Friday night and Saturday morning when government special forces, known as the “berkut,” violently dispersed journalists and protesters from Kiev’s central square. That only escalated the protests and clashes between police and Ukrainians angry over the government’s surprising decision to reject a landmark trade agreement with the European Union. This footage, reportedly taken near a government building on Sunday, December 1, shows a horde of riot police running through the street, along with one civilian who runs with them until several of the officers beat him with their batons and kick him to the ground as they pass by. By the time the short clip comes to an end, the civilian is laying in fetal position on the floor as dozens of police walk or run around him, without appearing to pay him much mind.
Human Rights Issue
Beginning with the dispersal of the square, the weekend in Kiev was filled with violent clashes between police and protesters. Human Rights Watch reported excessive use of force against protesters, which was also documented in several citizen and news videos. The advocacy group reported several incidents in which riot police “beat and injured numerous peaceful protesters” including journalists and elders, in some cases causing head injury.
Since they began on November 21, Ukraine’s protests—dubbed #Euromaidan— have been documented on video, allowing the rest of the country to follow the anti-government movement as it has unfolded. Unlike Russia, Kazakhstan and many former Soviet nations, Ukraine’s media is not solely controlled by the state. According to Freedom House, the country boasts one of the most independent media environments in Eastern Europe. As a result, footage of police brutality and injured protestors such as the video above has been broadcast on Ukrainian television, garnering even greater opposition to the government.
Outrage is not only domestic. The foreign ministers of Poland and Sweden expressed solidarity with the protestors and condemned police brutality, increasing the pressure on Ukrainian President Yanukovich to reconsider his stance toward the EU and give in to the protesters’ demands.