A line of scorched buses and trucks mark the boundary between protestors and police as unrest continues in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. So far, over two hundred demonstrators, journalists, and police have been injured and/or hospitalized.
The situation began in November as Ukranian President Yanukovych made the decision to freeze ties with the European Union and seek a large bailout from Russia. This decision generated mostly peaceful protests, which increased in size and intensity after police used violence to disperse demonstrators on two occasions.
Anger grew substantially as President Yanukovych enacted measures on Thursday which included:
• A ban on the unauthorized installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places
• The provision to arrest protestors wearing masks or helmets
• A ban on protests involving more than five vehicles in convoy
• Hefty fines or jail for breeches of law
On Tuesday, the UN’s High Commisioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the situation in the Ukraine “very worrying” and said the government should suspend the laws.
“I call on the authorities to suspend application of the laws to allow time for a thorough review of their content which must be in full compliance with international human rights standards, in particular Ukraine’s obligations under the treaties it has ratified,” she said in a statement.
The White House blamed the increased tensions on Ukraine’s government for failing to acknowledge its people’s legitimate grievances and threatened sanctions if the use of violence continues. (1)
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Ukraine’s government:
“has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine’s democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law.”(1)
She called on Ukraine to repeal recent laws limiting protests, remove riot police from downtown Kiev and start talking to the opposition.(1)
“The U.S. will continue to consider additional steps — including sanctions — in response to the use of violence,” Hayden said in a statement. (1)
According to a the ACLU and the New York Times, demonstrators are now receiving text messages saying “Dear User, you have now been registered as a riot attendant.” A scare tactic the government is trying to use to quell protests.
The device used in Kiev is most likely what’s known as an ‘IMSI catcher‘, which tricks cell phones into thinking it is a cell phone tower. Any phone within a certain distance of the device will therefore send identifying information to it, allowing the operator to automatically compile a list of every person nearby with a cell phone.(2)
The intimidating surveillance tactic appears not to have succeeded in Kiev, however. Hours after the government sent the mass text message, “the riot police pushed past barricades of burned buses on Hrushevskoho Street near Parliament but were nonetheless met by a crowd of protesters in ski masks and helmets carrying sticks and ready to fight.”(2)
“I can understand why people behaved this way and I can’t call them provocateurs,” Kateryna Kruk, a 22-year-old activist who has been one of the key voices of the movement on Twitter, wrote in (3). “It is sad and wrong that they have expressed their feelings this way, but when there is no leader in the crowd to control people, they start to act as the street teaches them.”
For now, Ukrainians will have to stay angry and, unless things change, get angrier still. And until that happens, they will have to find other outlets for their anger — at Yanukovych, at the police, at the opposition, at Western inaction, at other Ukrainians, at everything. Sunday’s burnt-out police buses may only be the beginning.(3)