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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.

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

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.

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.

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

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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.

(photo) Police attacking protesters hitting them to the ground in Kiev #ukraine #euromaidan, #євромайдан

Vitalii Moroz

@vitaliymoroz

(photo) Police attacking protesters hitting them to the ground in Kiev #ukraine #euromaidan, #євромайдан

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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.

Gregory Zhygalov

@GZhygalov

#євромайдан разогнал Беркут. Видео скоро.

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Several students barricaded themselves inside a nearby monastery.

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Riot police attempted to get inside.

Беркут подъехал к Михайловской церкви, люди их не пускают

Павел Шеремет

@pavelsheremet

Беркут подъехал к Михайловской церкви, люди их не пускают

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"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.

EU foreign ministers were quick to condemn the violence.

Repression against pro-EU manifestations in Kiev deeply worrying. We follow events. http://t.co/FpQqhyNhhN

Carl Bildt

@carlbildt

Repression against pro-EU manifestations in Kiev deeply worrying. We follow events. http://t.co/FpQqhyNhhN

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

Štefan Füle

@StefanFuleEU

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

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

Linas Linkevicius

@LinkeviciusL

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

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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 http://t.co/MqZqhiZ3Z8"

Evgen Vorobiov

@vorobyov

Now there is a second Belarus in Eastern Europe: "@AJEnglish: Police break up protest in Ukraine's capital http://t.co/MqZqhiZ3Z8"

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

Nataliya Gumenyuk

@ngumenyuk

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

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"November 30 was the start of the Belarusification of Ukraine."

30 ноября - начало белорусизации Украины #євромайдан

РБ головного мозга

@belamova

30 ноября - начало белорусизации Украины #євромайдан

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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

Marina N.

@miljota

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

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

Johny Vodka

@Johny_Vodka

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

#євромайдан

#Ukraine

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I'm really horrified by last events at #euromaidan. Nobody expected such demonstration of inhumanity!! #Євромайдан http://t.co/3Ath3Urjdi

Заяц

@naval_hare

I'm really horrified by last events at #euromaidan. Nobody expected such demonstration of inhumanity!! #Євромайдан http://t.co/3Ath3Urjdi

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The fight for Ukraine's independence is just now starting. It WILL be a fight. #євромайдан #euromaidan http://t.co/TLPOw3m1Kd

alex koval

@askoval

The fight for Ukraine's independence is just now starting. It WILL be a fight. #євромайдан #euromaidan http://t.co/TLPOw3m1Kd

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Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71

Contact Max Seddon at max.seddon@buzzfeed.com.

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