Ukraine on fire

Chaos, Molotov cocktails and social media ruled the streets during Kiev violence

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@kateryna_kruk
A protester throws debris at riot police in an attempt to keep them at bay via @kateryna_kruk

In the worst violence seen since the Euromaidan protests started in November, 26 people have been confirmed killed and hundreds injured in clashes with security forces. The streets of Kiev are ablaze as government officials and riot police storm protest camps set up in the middle of the square and the street itself has become a vocal battleground, a place where local night clubs hand out empty Martini bottles to turn into Molotov cocktails. Police whistles and sirens clash with cries of "OUT WITH THE GANG" and "CONVICTS OUT", referring to pro-government lawmakers and the President Viktor Yanukovych.

Initial anti-government protests began late last year when the President declared a pro-Russian direction for the country amid reports of police brutality and entrenched government corruption. After some recent calm the protests have escalated due to failed talks between government party officials and opposition leaders.

The protests have been largely between police, the recognised opposition and unaffiliated rebels. The President has called for the opposition to separate itself from what he called "radical elements". Talks overnight between the two parties broke down and the violence has continued. The US, EU and Nato had pleaded with Mr Yanukovych on Wednesday "not to use force to end the protests."

Independence Square has become a desolate landscape. Sources report people ripping up paving slabs to throw at the police on the front lines. "Titushki and Berkut (government sponsored street hooligans) are 'cleaning' the main streets from protesters" says Kateryna Taylor, co-curator of the Kyiv Sculpture project, "to 'clean' means to destroy tents and all barricades at the Maidan." Amid the burning tyre barricades – TV coverage shows Ukrainians singing hymns and chanting the Lord's Prayer. 

Still image from EspressoTV livestream
Still image from EspressoTV livestream

Kristina Jovanovski – a freelance journalist currently in Kiev was caught between the barricades separating parts of the city "A fire was started and I continually heard bangs" – presumably some type of grenade. I saw three injured people being carried away; many more had bloody faces." The frontline around Independence Square is led in part by opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, he urged his supporters to defend the base, saying: “We will not go anywhere. This is an island of freedom and we will defend it.”

"What is happening right now is scary," says Kateryna. "My office is facing the other side of Khreshatik (the main street of Kiev). The empty pedestal that held Lenin's monument has been destroyed and I have just seen protesters under my office window crushing a police car."

The entire city is embroiled in the conflict as people flood into the centre in increasing numbers to join the protests. "I saw helmets, gauze bandages, people holding bits in theirs hands," says Kateryna, going on recount a story where a colleague had seen a local night club "giving protesters empty bottles of Veuve Clicquot and Martini for Molotov cocktails", transforming them into vessels for makeshift petrol bombs.

Fires rage in Maidan @euromaidan
Fires rage in Independence Square Via @euromaidan

Nikita Kada, an outspoken Ukrainian artist and activist, has been vocal in his distaste for the present government. Currently in Venice he has "changed the ticket" for his flight home because of the violence, opting to return sooner than planned. This is one example of just how empowered the countries youth has become – while calling for top-level change, each side blames the other for the current unrest, with any peaceful protest by the young and the elderly has been washed away with the water cannons as the police continuously move in to break up anti-government protest camps. 

Alisa Lozhkina, the editor of the magazine Art Ukraine, has also been caught up in the clashes. "We have been in the middle of all this trash for the last several hours. People are scared and paralyzed," she explains. “Those caught in the crossfire have turned to social media. It has become one of the few outlets for anybody wishing to be heard and found amidst the chaos." According to her, those caught up are turning to "the documentary pictures and stream broadcasts" for clarity.

Protesters and the world have taken to Twitter to share photos and advice, whilst those caught in the fray try desperately to reconnect with family and friends. Notifications that "the Subway is out", "the power is out" and "get ready for third attempt on the Square" quash any attempt of peace - even in the digital sphere. 

Viacheslav Veremiy a journalist from the Vesti newspaper is reported to have died in hospital earlier on Wednesday morning after an altercation with Titushki fighters. The news broke on Twitter, while videos of NSFW shootings and bodies are doing the media rounds. Users are also warning protesters of the whereabouts of specific factions of militia as well as contributing emotional support. On Twitter, #kiev and #euromaidan offer a glimpse of just some of the messages.

The French theorist and activist Guy Debord knew a thing or two about how protest works: "the spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images". It’s a characterisation that is just as easy to envision as the triumphant motto for Twitter on the streets of Ukraine today. Talks continue to breakdown between the Presidential camp and the opposition leaders and the fires are still burning across Kiev. For the moment, bloodied photographs and notification threads across all broadcast mediums remain the dominant visual force.

You can watch the livestream of Kiev's main square from Espresso TV here: 

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