Ukraine protesters agreed to a mutual truce Thursday after clashing with police since Sunday. Both sides expect the peace to last only a few hours. Despite this, government opposition leaders are meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for a second attempt at coming to a peaceful solution. Three anti-government group figures are meeting with the hope to prevent further violence.
Despite these talks and the agreed period of peace on both sides, Ukraine citizen rioting has spread outside of the capital of Kiev. People angry over the Ukrainian government’s refusal to accept a European Union trade pact are taking to the streets in at least six other cities. The governor of the western city of Lviv was beset by protesters who stormed his offices. He was reportedly forced to sign his formal resignation.
Riots in Ukraine have flared to critical levels this week. Wednesday saw two people killed in clashes between rioters and police. These were the first deaths since the Ukraine Euromaidan protests began, marking a potentially dark turning point for the ongoing civil unrest in Ukraine.
In an even more ominous move, Ukrainian demonstrators camped in Kiev’s Independence Square received were sent this week. “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot,” it read. The Orwellian warning presumably came from the Ukrainian government. Recent laws passed in Kiev forbid anti-government demonstrations, threatening up to 15 years of jail for violators.
The Ukraine government’s growing intolerance of opposition took form this week as police renewed their crack down in Kiev. Government forces have been seen pushing on protester encampments. Barricades have been torn down and burnt with black smoke filling the skies above the streets.
The language being used by government officials is also telling of the direction of the crisis in Ukraine. Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka stated this week that the opposition riots were “crimes against the state.” While President Yanukovych may pick his words with more tact, he insists his priorities are peace and public safety — possible justification for the recent police crackdowns. Ukraine Prime Minister Mykola Azarov remarked on Wednesday that “a genuine attempt at a coup d’état is being carried out.”
Government officials in Ukraine say that clashes this week have resulted in over 70 arrests. They also report that nearly 200 police officers have been injured. Around 122 demonstrators have been hurt, officials say. However, Ukrainian opposition groups say the number is much larger. They claim that the violence has left nearly 1,400 people in need of medical treatment. Many, however, have not sought treatment or reported their wounds for fear of arrest.
17-year-old student Mikhail Nizkoguz alleges that police forces tortured him for hours. After facing accusation for firing fireworks at police, he was arrested. He says officers then took turns beating him with batons. Eventually, Nizkoguz says, he was stripped naked and forced outside. There, officers made him sing the national anthem in the bitter cold. Before he was taken to a hospital, the student says police took knives to his skin, leaving him with marks including a deep gash on his forehead.
While opposition leaders are meeting with Ukrainian government officials, hopes are for a true solution soon. The growing repression from police only seems to serve to radicalize demonstrators, threatening greater unrest and violence in Ukraine.