Editor’s Note: New York-based Ukranian-born filmmaker ‘Yana’ – whose real name is not being used to protect her safety – has been in Ukraine since November, 2013 and was filming in Kiev last week when government special forces attacked civilian protesters in Maruinska Square. Here is her story.
Yana, a filmmaker from Ukraine, was in the main square in Kiev when violence erupted
She said she saw government troops attack, beat and shoot at protesters
Yana: Attacks didn't stop people; they stood their ground; would not retreat
If anyone calls current events in Ukraine a civil war, don’t believe them. This has been a war between the Ukrainian people and elements of their government, a battle for their freedom and against tyranny and dictatorship. Much more like a revolution.
It started like a carnival, a peaceful demonstration, an expression of people’s will to join European Union and shift away from Russia. But the Ukrainian Woodstock was over very soon. Then the troops moved in and death took over.
This was no longer a carnival. This was war.
On February 18, the war reached it bloodiest peak, and I was there, at the Maydan of Independence – the main square in Kiev – bearing witness to the drama and bravery of my own people.
Earlier that day, protesters supporting a free Ukraine had met the requirement set down by government officials – that they release their hold on Kiev City Hall. And they expected the Parliament, in turn, to meet their requirements – deliver the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, release political prisoners, restore of the constitution of 2004, and investigate the repression of peaceful protesters.
But, so far, they hadn’t.
Instead, the deputies were not making any decisions. We watched as many of them instead chose to flee the Parliament building, which was protected by four rows of governmental special forces.
Across from them was just one row of self-defense guards – protecting the civilians – armed with just shields and wooden sticks. People in civilian clothing were beyond them.
And then there were the protesters. Waiting.
Vadym, our coordinator from our self-defense group, was with us when we returned to the Parliament building. Vadym told us to beware, that this most likely was a trap.
It looked as if the deputies – representing the President’s party – had no intention of meeting protester demands. Instead, they were just luring protesters from the Maydan – where they were protected by the barricades – out into the open, where they could be captured and arrested.
More and more special forces surrounded Maruinska Square, moving in from all sides. We went closer to the right flank of the special forces on the corner of Instytutska Street and Kriposnyj alley. I saw them approaching about 100 meters (110 yards) away.
Suddenly we heard people screaming and ambulance sirens. Some of the injured protesters were dragged to safety.
I could not find my colleague in the crowd. Some people began running away from the front line shouting, “They are killing us, they are using Kalashnikovs and real bullets!”
Special forces started attacking. Running forward with their shields, beating people by their batons.
There were not enough guys from our self-defense group there; most of them were near the Parliament. Here we saw mostly civilians – men and women, old and young – being beaten and chased and shot. None of them were prepared for what was happening to them.
Then, people started panicking, screaming and running away. The narrow street was jammed. I kept filming, but Vadym was begging me to leave. Suddenly, I saw special forces less than 5 meters away.
The crowd was pushing. Vadym was leading me through. He kept saying “When the crowed pushes, walk slowly, make baby steps, pay attention to all details, don’t let agonizing crowd push you down.”
When the crowd bumped me and my the camera against the car, Vadym yelled at me –“RUN!”
We ran toward the square. It was safer there, but just for a moment. We saw that the four rows of special forces that were protecting the Parliament were now breaking though the line of self-defense guards and starting to attack, beating people without mercy.
And then they started shooting. Shooting for real. From behind our backs. They were also attacking us from the left and from the right. We were trapped. Our only chance to escape was through the narrow street.
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The panic was increasing, people shouting and kicking, many faces were covered by blood. I saw Berkut – the riot police, the elite and most cruel unit of special forces – approaching a few meters away. Vadym told me to run as fast as I could. The crowed pushed people to the wall of the building and I almost smashed my head over the corner of a balcony. I dived under it and the Berkut passed me by.
In that moment, Vadym, a guard from our self-defense group, had just saved my life.
Meanwhile, people ran to the Maydan. A state official proclaimed that anyone who stayed in the square would be considered a terrorist and the special forces would clean up the square over the next hour. Pretty soon they started to attack the heart of the revolution – the main square, the Maydan of Independence.
In the evening the whole square was burning. Protester tents, flags, and key buildings were destroyed by fire. I’ll never forget the voices of the girls ringing from the stage, still singing heroic Ukrainian combat songs while the square was being eaten by fire.
That day, February 18, many people were killed, many injured. But the Maydan remained free, for the people. We were exhausted, but we were victorious.
Two days later, the government’s special forces chose a different tactic to try to stop the protestors. They planted snipers on the roofs of the buildings. The snipers would fire down into the crowds. On that day, about 80 more people were killed.
But even that didn’t stop the people. They stood their ground. They would not retreat.
On February 22, the brutal dictator, President Yanukovych, fled Kiev in the middle of the night. But he didn’t get far.
The people won. But this victory was bitter. So many people died and many more disappeared.
Flowers and candles now cover the center of the city that burned. Protesters who were once beaten now roam freely along the Maydan.
A dictator has fallen, and the Ukrainian people have risen.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Yana.