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Kyiv's victims

Roman Goncharenko / cdJanuary 22, 2014

Three protestors have died during protests in Kyiv. As street fights rage on, volunteer nurses treat the wounded. Protestors fear arrest, jail time - or that they will ultimately have to flee their home country.

The shielded forms of police officers clash with protestors on the street.
Image: Reuters

Svitlana doesn't want to use her real name. No photos, either, the young woman in her early 20s tells DW. After new laws came into effect this week in Ukraine, Svitlana could land in prison for years on charges of "extremism." That's because she's taking part in opposition protests in Ukraine's capital in Kyiv. The student of medicine from western Ukraine has recently started work as a volunteer nurse.

Tuesday night (22.01.2014), Svitlana watched as a a young man was delivered to the opposition's makeshift medical center. "He was brought here at about 5:30 in the morning," she told DW. "He had four bullet wounds: two in the head and two in the chest." Medical staff tried to revive him for fifteen minutes, eye-witness said, before an ambulance took the wounded man to a clinic, where he died. Since then his name has become known: Serhij Nihojan, an Armenian from eastern Ukraine.

The blue-yellow flag of Ukraine barely sticks out in the background of a snowy scene of protest clashes
Demonstrators have endured Ukraine's winter for two monthsImage: DW/R. Goncharenko

Victims cast shadow over protests

For the first time in recent history in Ukraine, there have been deaths as a result of protests against he government and Ukrainian president. The current wave of protests began on November 21, 2013, triggered by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's sudden change of course in declining to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Since then, Yanukovich has pushed for rapprochement with Russia. In Kyiv alone, tens of thousands have taken to the streets to oppose such policies.

Nihojan isn't the only demonstrator who has died. Ukrainian media have reported of at least a second death. A young man is said to have fallen from a 10-meter (33-foot) pillar at the entrance to the Dynamo stadium. The area is just 100 meters from Maidan, or "Independence Square," where since Sunday scenes of brutal violence have played out. Hundreds of young men armed with sticks and iron bars have attempted to enter the blocked-off government quarters. They have repeatedly been pushed back by police. Each attack brings a counterattack. Police are using rubber bullets, tear gas and flash grenades. Protestors respond by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

At times, conditions in central Kyiv approximate those of a war zone. Snow on one street is gray from the diesel of a burned police bus. Tire barricades are set aflame, black smoke rises in the gray sky. "Yeah, it's like a civil war," the volunteer nurse says. What surprises her most is "the indifference of the police."

"We're looking them in the eyes, and they beat clubs on their shields so they can't hear us," she says with sadness.

Not much time

Many on Kyiv's streets are outraged by their own police force. "It's a disgrace," says Leonid, a man in his early 60s. The police, he says, are acting against the people and must be held accountable for it. Younger men at the Maidan, Kyiv's central square, who did not want to speak into a microphone said they would be prepared to storm the president's office and would simply need weapons to do so.

Demonstration und Proteste in Kiew 22.01.2014
Ukraine's government holds protestors responsible for using Molotov cocktailsImage: DW/R. Goncharenko

Ukraine's government is blaming the opposition for the escalation of violence. Prime Minister Mykola Asarov said as much as he thanked police for their work. Opposition leaders such as Vitali Klitschko blame the government and president, demanding all step down. Yet the opposition leader doesn't appear to have much influence. Politicians in the opposition camp are on the receiving end of rants by masked anti-government activists, who complain they haven't done enough.

Although demonstrators are disappointed that a mass uprising has so far failed to materialize, a few thousand protesters can be found in central Kyiv. Volunteer nurse Svitlana hopes more people from other Ukrainian regions will come to Kyiv.

Her friend and colleague, who also asks to remain anonymous, tells DW that, "If we lose, I'll have to leave Ukraine."

The two don't have much time. After a short pause, they return to the street to help the injured.