Travel

The Bloody Conflict in Ukraine

My trip to Kiev in May will be unforgettable. As I walked to Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) I felt as though I was in a war zone. Candles, wreaths and flowers lay where the mass killing of innocent protesters took place. The Maidan continues to stay as it has for the last six months. Although the streets look calmer now that many volunteers have cleaned up after the terrifying fires on and around the Maidan Square.

But no-one is prepared to leave the Independence Square, until the citizens see change and stability in their government, and until there is peace in the country.

I felt as though I was in a war zone.

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Just after leaving the airport to the town centre, I noticed soldiers standing on top of a very tall building holding weapons. At this point, I felt as though my safety was at risk. I also saw several soldiers and policemen stood outside the Supreme Council of Ukraine, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government buildings. As I walked through the Square, soldiers were peacefully patrolling the Maidan.

It has been almost 23 years since Ukraine made a choice to stand independently. This choice is becoming today’s reality, in that citizens still have to fight, and even die for their independence in 2014.

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The social conflict in Ukraine began when president Yanukovych rejected a deal with the EU to remain close with Russia in November 2013. On the night of the 30th of November 2013, police attacked protesters, the majority of whom were students in the region of Maidan Nezalezhnosti. The Berkut, who were the Ukrainian special police of the Ministry of internal affairs, until late March 2014, attacked unarmed, innocent people, beating them to the ground on the streets. The unrest brought thousands of people together, demanding Yanukovych to step down.

…citizens still have to fight, and even die for their independence in 2014.

Spokeswoman for the police, Olha Bilyk, defended the police raid, saying that the protesters were getting in the way of preparations for Christmas and New Year celebrations. Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor Anatoliy Pryshko confirmed that 79 people were wounded in the raid that night.

During the day of the elections, many of the voters were elderly. Young people decided to stay away from the ballot box because they did not agree with the political system.

In December there was more and more unrest in the regions of Kiev, where protesters and police had blamed one another. Local people protested against the corruption of their government and demanded a rapid change in the system. The vulnerable protesters threw smoke bombs and broken cobblestones from the ground at the police, while the police forces and the Berkut threw smoke grenades, not only rubber bullets but automatic rifles. People were killed instantly without any chance of survival.

During the bloody conflict in the capital, hundreds of protesters and many Ukrainian army troops were killed. Protesters did not expect to be fired at by the police using automatic rifles. In fact, the only protection they had against the police and Berkut, were self made, metal and wood shields, and body armour.

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The House of  Trade Union of Ukraine, much of which was burnt down, recalls what happened in February 2014. Dozens of protesters were led up to a floor in the building, and died when the building was set on fire.

On the Maidan I asked several people what they think of the current situation, and if they feel safe. “At the moment it’s quiet here, because the political conflict is currently going on in Donetsk” said Vladimir. Later, Tomar, who has lived on the Maidan for 6 months, and only travelled home to Georgia for 3 days, said “We are not evacuating from the Maidan as Klitschko ordered us. We are not prepared to listen to Klitschko. We ordinary people have taken matters into our own hands because we cannot depend or rely on our government anymore. We will evacuate once we see stability in our country”.

The people in Kiev are very concerned about the situation in the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine. The country is a multinational state, where in 2001, ethnic Ukrainians formed 78 percent of the population, while Russians made up 17 percent, with 5 percent divided among nearly 100 nationalities. These nationalities have always existed peacefully with each other.

We ordinary people have taken matters into our own hands because we cannot depend or rely on our government anymore.

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Despite a memorandum on peace adopted by the parliament before the presidential vote on the 25th of May 2014, the Ukrainian security operation in South Eastern Ukraine continues.

Since the operation began, many have died on both sides. The Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has stated that Ukraine must immediately stop the military operation in the eastern part of the country, whilst the citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk held a referendum on self-determination. On May 11th, over 90 percent of the voters supported greater autonomy, and on the 28th of May, Sergey Lavrov said that they were ready to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine’s eastern regions.

On May 30th, Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko said that he will bring fighting in the east of the country to an end. “We must make every effort to make sure that no more Ukrainians die at the hands of terrorists and bandits”.

While Ukrainian politicians and western leaders are trying to find the right way to end the war, more and more innocent people and soldiers continue to die. Chaos and unrest are spreading in the east of the country every day. Russia and Ukraine are beautiful countries with common traditional history and cultures. Ordinary Russians and Ukrainians do not want a war, they want to live in peace and to be able to lead their normal, everyday lives again.

Tetiana Mateyko

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