Ukrainians Fear “Belarus-Style” Repression After Riot Police Violently Disperse Peaceful Protest

Several dozen people were hospitalized Saturday after riot police cleared a tent city protesting President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a deal with the EU. Yanukovych’s chief of staff reportedly resigned in the wake of the violence.

Ukrainians gathered in Kiev’s Independence Square on Friday night to demand their country move away from Russia and towards the European Union.

Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times / MCT

Protesters had been camped out there since last week, furious at President Viktor Yanukovych for backing out of a pact with the EU at the last minute under heavy Russian pressure.

This sketch of Yanukovych reads “Sign it!” Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times / MCT

After Yanukovych told EU leaders at a summit on Friday there was no chance of signing the deal, riot police violently dispersed protesters from the square without warning at 4 a.m. Saturday.

Police used batons and stun grenades to break up the tent city.

Police claimed they cleared the square to help preparations for New Year’s festivities, including setting up a giant Christmas tree. They arrested 35 protesters, most of whom were released within a few hours.

The violence was a shock for Ukraine, which has a history of peaceful protests. Yanukovych’s chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin, resigned hours later, Interfax and the Kyiv Post reported.

#євромайдан разогнал Беркут. Видео скоро.

— GZhygalov (@Gregory Zhygalov)

Several dozen protesters were hospitalized.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich was among those injured.

Stringer / Reuters

Police sealed off the square and removed all traces of the tent city.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

Several students barricaded themselves inside a nearby monastery.

Riot police attempted to get inside.

Беркут подъехал к Михайловской церкви, люди их не пускают

— pavelsheremet (@Павел Шеремет)

“We woke up in another country. Ukraine’s more like Belarus,” the country known as “Europe’s last dictatorship,” opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk told the Interfax news agency.

Gleb Garanich / Reuters

EU foreign ministers were quick to condemn the violence.

Repression against pro-EU manifestations in Kiev deeply worrying. We follow events.

— carlbildt (@Carl Bildt)

#Ukraine:authorities refrained from signing #AssocAgreement/DCFTA but they should not refrain from respecting freedom of assembly&expression

— StefanFuleEU (@Štefan Füle)

Condemn beating of peaceful protesters in #Kyiv #Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Use of brutal force is unacceptable

— LinkeviciusL (@Linas Linkevicius)

Many Ukrainians on Twitter worried that their country was backsliding towards neo-Soviet repression.

Now there is a second Belarus in Eastern Europe: "@AJEnglish: Police break up protest in Ukraine's capital"

— vorobyov (@Evgen Vorobiov)

for/about the Ukrainian journalists: it's like to make a reportage about your own house burning #ukraine #police #euromaidan #євромайдан

— ngumenyuk (@Nataliya Gumenyuk)

“November 30 was the start of the Belarusification of Ukraine.”

30 ноября - начало белорусизации Украины #євромайдан

— belamova (@РБ головного мозга)

I have no words. I am deeply shocked. They beated up peacefully standing people. We can't live in such country! We need help #євромайдан

— miljota (@Marina N.)

We are Ukrainian people, please, save us from the tyranny of government. #євромайдан #Ukraine

— Johny_Vodka (@Johny Vodka)

I'm really horrified by last events at #euromaidan. Nobody expected such demonstration of inhumanity!! #Євромайдан

— naval_hare (@Заяц)

The fight for Ukraine's independence is just now starting. It WILL be a fight. #євромайдан #euromaidan

— askoval (@alex koval)

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Max Seddon is a foreign correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Kiev. Seddon reports on Ukraine and Russia.
Contact Max Seddon at
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